Istanbul show sheds light on Goya's dark etchings

Jul 26, 2012, 8:49 AM EDT

"Goya: Witness of His Time," at the Pera Museum, draws together 230 etchings, drawings and oil paintings that detail the upheaval in Spain at the turn of the 19th century.
They also provide insight into the dark imagination of one of Spain's greatest artists. But it is the satire that still resonates, Marisa Oropesa, the curator, said in an interview.
The etching captioned "Even thus he cannot make her out," shows an unctuous suitor sidling up to a woman either genuinely charmed by his overtures or pandering to his romantic illusions.
"This is quite humorous, and its theme is universal," Oropesa said. "Generally, one would expect the man seeking a prostitute to recognize one."
It is part of "The Caprichos," or "The Whims", a fantastical series of prints featuring caricatures of Spanish society and evoking the political cartoon. The Caprichos is one of four series of prints that comprise the bulk of the Pera show.
"Tauromaquia" (Bullfighting) depicts the quintessentially Spanish pastime, and "The Follies" series shows contorted humans and demons that predicts Surrealism by more than 100 years.
The aquatint prints of the macabre "Disasters of War" series are a chronicle of the violence meted out against Spaniards by advancing Napoleonic armies between 1808 and 1814.
Heart-wrenching in their brutality, these images have the power to chill even now. "On account of a knife" depicts a garrotted priest with a knife, the possession of which earned him his death sentence, dangling from his neck.
The series yielded the artist's most famous painting, "The Second of May 1808," which is not on view at the Pera.
The engravings outweigh the smattering of paintings, which makes the show an intense study in monochrome, but the paintings are a vibrant punctuation to the intimately sized prints.
"Children Playing Leapfrog," from 1785-1786, is an early indication of Goya's talent at rendering the inner character of a subject with vivid emotion.
Pride of place at the show goes to "Charles IV in the Uniform of Colonel of the Guardias de Corps" and "Maria Luisade Parma in Court Dress," portraits from 1800.
The diptych is among commissions from royalty and other wealthy patrons Goya undertook at the start of his career.
Born in 1746, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes was rejected early on by the art establishment. After a stint in Rome, he returned to Spain and was hired by the Royal Tapestry Factory. He soon had little trouble securing commissions from nobility.
In 1793, illness left Goya deaf and withdrawn, and he began to experiment across other media, which led to some of his most arresting works. His place among the great artists was assured.
It was decades after his death in 1828 that his style of modernity would be taken up again.
"Goya is the last of the Old Masters and the first of the Modernists," said Ozalp Birol, general manager at the Pera.
"Mounting a Master's series of engravings in full does not happen often, and this is one of the most comprehensive shows. The selection of paintings enhance the exhibit," Birol said.
The works are primarily from collections in Spain and Italy. Some own only one engraving or part of a series, Oropesa said.
"It was very difficult because many owners do not want to loan Goyas out. Getting so many of them together was complex."
Goya joins the likes of Miro, Chagall and Picasso in artists exhibited at the Pera Museum, located in Istanbul's smart Beyoglu district. The Pera is a central part of what has become Europe's most exciting emerging art scene.
"Goya: Witness of His Time," now in its final week, has attracted some 40,000 visitors, the museum said.