Friday, February 15, 2008

The Art of Spain - and Goya

Oil on canvas, 266 х 345 cm.
Museo del Prado Madrid (wikimedia -
Museo del Prado)

I keep feeling like I need to understand much more about Spanish Art. I wasn't planning to blog about it but last night I learned a lot more by watching the third and last episode of Graham Dixon Wright's BBC series on The Art of Spain and a documentary called Goya: Crazy like a Genius.

The Art Of Spain

In the last three weeks BBC4 (which is the BBC's Arts/Culture channel) has broadcast three 60-minute programmes broadcast on The Art of Spain celebrating the astonishing influence of Spain on European art (hence why I wanted to know more!).

Andrew Graham Dixon, the chief art critic of the Sunday Telegraph, started with an overview of the stunning and unique Muslim contribution in the medieval south, in Seville, Cordoba and Granada; followed up with the The Dark Heart of Spain and the golden age of Spanish painting which included El Greco and Velaquez, and then travelled to The Mystical North last night to cover Goya, Picasso, Miro and Dali. (scroll to the bottom of the page on all the links!)
Spain has produced some of the most startling and original art ever created... the art we need to know about, because it holds the key to understanding all of Europe and its culture
Andrew Graham-Dixon
You can read some of the viewer's comments on the programme. I agree with quite a lot of them. The pictures were absolutely wonderful - however the BBC has a tendency to sugar coat its 'art pills' at times and I could have done with less of Mr Dixon obscuring the scene. When will presenters of art programmes learn that we want to see the art and its context and not them? That said, I'd still like to have the three programmes on DVD but it doesn't look like the BBC agrees.

Goya, Crazy like Genius

I've never known much about Goya before other than that his etchings are stunning although the subject matter can be rather difficult to stomach at time (for example - see The Disasters of War).

Anyway, I finished watching the repeat version of episode 3 last night very late and noticed that even later there was a documentary by Robert Hughes (who wrote "The Shock of the New" about the development of modern art since the Impressionists) on Goya called Goya, Crazy like a Genius.

Long story short, after a little debate with myself I stayed up! It was a stunning programme - one of those where even at that time in the early morning you just watch with eyes popping out of your head and an urge to press the rewind button when it gets to the end so you can watch it all through again.

The film was made by Oxford Film and Television (check the factual singles) and was originally broadcast on the opening night of BBC4. I couldn't find it in the BBC shop but have found it elsewhere with defined geographic distribution - UK (Amazon); US and Canada (Films Media Group) and Australia (enhance). It's also on Yahoo Movies (which I've not used so I don't know what it's like as a service). I think I'll be ordering a DVD copy asap.

Just in case you think I'm over-egging it a tad, here's the Sunday Telegraph review of the film quoted by Amazon - and I'm glad to see they agreed with me! (My only concern being that although it's widely quoted I can't find the original online!)
Written and presented by renowned art critic Robert Hughes, Crazy Like A Genius explores the world of Francisco Goya: charting his achievements as a court painter, satirist and war reporter, as well as a topographer of the inner self - of madness, fear and despair.

This program offers a detailed visual and intellectual analysis of Goya masterpieces, including Witches in the Air, The Third of May and The Dream of Reason, as well as examples of his early work and portraiture such as The Duchess of Alba, The Nude Maja and The Clothed Maja.

Hughes gives an insight into the enormous changes that took place in Goya s work in the course of his life: the shift from light to dark.

In Spain, he travels to Goya s native Aragon and in Madrid he is seen visiting galleries, palaces and churches where Goya s works are on display. In New York Hughes calls on the American painter, Leon Golub, who shares his fascination for Goya, and elicits a contemporary artist s perspective on the Spanish master s work.

Hughes professes himself incapable of summing up Goya s achievements neatly, but concludes that to meet Goya is still to meet ourselves.

One of those rare programs where you feel afterwards as if a layer of dead skin has been stripped from your eyeballs and your powers of perception have shot up accordingly
Sunday Telegraph
You get a little bit of a sense of what it was all about and why Goya changed art forever in this Guardian Books article which Hughes wrote round about the time his own book on Goya was published. I've listed a link to the book below (which contains a long review by the Washington Post). You can also read other reviews of the book on At the time it was rated as one of the best art biographies.

Anyway, I was so impressed I started to look for more information, came up with lots of sites and decided I better start a new information site which I've done - Goya - Resources for Artists. I've got a lot to go through and I think I might be getting a book too!

Not bad for one night's late night viewing?!!!



  1. Katherine: I grew up in Madrid. There were numerous inevitable trips to the Prado (through school or as part of the lengthy stream of visitors) which houses a great deal of Goya's work. Goya was always a much easier sell to ghoulish schoolchildren than Velazquez or Murillo (or Titian, Raphael or Tintoretto, all of whom are also represented in profusion) though perhaps not quite so much as Bosch, who is also a huge Prado presence. I've never grown tired of his work. I'd love to see the Hughes documentary, though: thanks for the tip!

    There was a fantastic show of Goya's late etchings at the Frick in New York I caught a couple of years ago.

  2. Katherine you are such a wonderful obsessive! I'm excited just reading your response to these shows. I'm very bitter not to be able to see them!

    I think there is something about Goya that engages children. He is probably the first artist whose name I could recall.

    Now I'm going to start following your golden thread to those links. A big thanks from the BBC TV Deprived!

  3. I got a Goya book (Phaidon) for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. :)

    Thanks for the great tips, these shows seem very interesting. Moving pictures can be a very refreshing way of learning new stuff after leafing all these books and browsing the web.

    I think that my favorite Spanish artist is El Greco (I reviewed some of his work) -- but then he was not really Spanish, was he, though some will certainly disagree.


  4. This post has had me thinking all week! I would loved to have seen the BBC series!! Could you let your readers know if it ever becomes available on DVD? I don't know that much about Spanish art but I have always so admired Goya, Zurbaran, Velazquez. I'm going to order the Hughes DVD when I get back from Hawaii. That will make the homecoming easier! I can't thank you enough for the rich panoply of information and stimulation that you provide your readers everywhere.

  5. Thanks for this great post. I came across Goya well before I came across painting for mysel - really for the passion of his social commentary and the Third of May had me haunted for a considerable length of time. In fact, I got given a exhibition catalogue of the Prado back then - I need to dig that up again.


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