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"Los Caprichos: Francisco Goya"
2006-12-16 until 2007-02-25
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA

A set of 80 black-and-white etchings, Los Caprichos, by Spanish artist Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from December 16, 2006 through February 25, 2007. Los Caprichos, one of the most influential series of graphic images in the history of Western art, provides a satirical and damning look at 18th-century Spanish society. This superb first edition set of these controversial etchings, published in 1799, is one of four sets acquired directly from Goya by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna.

Court artist to the Spanish royal family, Goya achieved recognition as an unparalleled painter of portraits and religious subject matter. Later in his career, he began to offer a darker and more cynical view of his contemporaries, even those who supported his work. Enigmatic and controversial, Los Caprichos was created in a time of social repression and economic crisis in Spain. Influenced by Enlightenment thinking, Goya set out to analyze the human condition and denounce social abuses and superstitions. Los Caprichos was his passionate declaration that the chains of social backwardness had to be broken if humanity was to advance. The series attests to the artist’s political liberalism and to his revulsion at ignorance and intellectual oppression, mirroring his ambivalence toward authority and the church.

Los Caprichos deals with such themes as the Spanish Inquisition, the corruption of the church and the nobility, witchcraft, child rearing, avarice, and the frivolity of young women. Its subhuman cast includes goblins, monks, aristocrats, procuresses, prostitutes, and animals acting like human fools; these personages populate a world on the margins of reason, where no clear boundaries distinguish reality from fantasy. Capricho can be translated as a whim, a “fantasy or expression of imagination.” In Goya’s use of the term for this series of prints, however, the meaning has deepened, binding an ironical cover of humor over one of the most profound indictments of human vice ever set on paper.

Other works by Goya are included in the exhibition for comparison: four later edition prints from Los Caprichos; two examples of early etchings after Vélasquez; and one example each from Goya’s other major graphic series: Los Desastres de la Guerra, Los Proverbios, and La Tauromaquia. Additionally, to demonstrate the broad influence of Los Caprichos, the exhibition includes a drawing by eccentric California artist Edward Hagedorn (circa 1925), after Los Caprichos plate 51, “Se repulen,” and eight etchings by contemporary artist Enrique Chagoya, “The Return to Goya’s Caprichos,” published in 1999.

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