Francisco de Goya Biography

Biography of Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, Father of Modern Art (1746-1828)

Caprichos etching Self-portrait (with hat), 1796-97

Caprichos etching Self-portrait (with hat), 1796-97, Davidson Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT


Perhaps if Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes had been born during the 19th century rather than the 18th century, his medium would've been photography rather than canvas and paint. Because he chose to document the human activity of the Spanish people involved in everyday activities, the portraiture of Spanish royalty, human corruption, and the atrocities of war, he also chronicled the major events of his lifetime. Subject matter was more important to Goya than his technique. He lived during a time of great uncertainty and upheaval in Spain, and by the end of his life the world had changed entirely. His career began as a fresco painter, which gradually evolved into Court Painter. A mysterious illness left him completely deaf at the age of 47, and the isolation he felt caused him to withdraw into himself and become more introspective. Goya retreated into a fantasy world that turned his focus from the bright colors of bullfights, pleasing genre scenes, and Spanish court life - to the dark nightmares of the Inquisition and the violence of the French invasion. Goya is considered the first of the modernists because of the realism in which he chose to render his images from this time in his life. He expressed an undeterred inclination to depict reality - wrinkles and all. Considered the greatest artist of both the Neoclassical and Romantic periods, he is said to have joined the Classical to the Modern. During his career that lasted more than 60 years, Goya never visited France, the focus of the art world at that time, yet he is considered the father of Modern Art, and his work predicted the art of the Impressionists. He credits his influences to Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, and nature.


Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was born to Jose Benito de Goya y Franque and Garcia de Lucientes y Salvador on March 30, 1746 in Fuendetodos, a small village near Zaragoza, Spain. His father was a gilder, and his mother was from a poor family. In 1749 Goya's family moved to Zaragoza where his father worked on the Nuestra Senora del Pilar, a very large church in Zaragoza. It was there that Goya was exposed to the professional world of art. He attended school at Escuelas Pias in Zaragoza where he started a lifelong friendship with Martin Zapater. Correspondence between Goya and Zapater later became vital information for art historians. At the age of 14 Goya entered into an apprenticeship with Jose Luzan Martinez, a mediocre, Rococco painter, popular as a church decorator. Martinez started a painting academy called the Primera Junter Preparatoria in 1749. Goya attended this painting academy for 4 years, where he learned to draw and copy prints by the Masters.

Self-portrait (as a young man), 1771-75, courtesy of a private collection

Self-portrait (as a young man), 1771-75, courtesy of a private collection


At the age of 17 Goya moved to Madrid. Charles III was King of Spain and was displeased with the quality of Spanish art at the time. He recruited two of the best painters in Europe, Neoclassical painter Raphael Mengs and Giovanni Baptiste Tiepolo, both of Venice, to come to Madrid to invigorate Spanish art. Goya studied with Raphael Mengs, who was then working as a court painter. While living in Madrid, Goya submitted entries to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in 1763,1766, and 1770, but was rejected each time. In the meantime, Goya's apprenticeship with Mengs was not going well. Goya continued working under Mengs until he earned enough money to travel to Rome to study the Renaissance frescoes. In 1771 Goya traveled to Rome and lived off the money he made from his artwork. He won second prize in a painting contest sponsored by the city of Parma. Later the same year Goya returned to Zaragoza and won commissions to paint frescoes for the Basilica of Pilar, the Aula Dei, and the Sobradiel Palace, all located in Zaragoza. These frescoes earned Goya credit as a late Baroque, early Rococco painter, and are probably the last he did in Zaragoza. Goya began to study with the painter Francisco Bayeu y Subias, Mengs' first assistant and a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Art. Under Bayeu's direction Goya's painting began to exhibit the subtle nuances that made him famous.

The Parasol, 1777, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

The Parasol, 1777, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

In 1773 Goya married Dona Josefa Bayeu, Francisco Bayeu's sister. Goya and Josefa bore many children, but only a son, Francisco Xavier, lived to adulthood. Josefa's brother, Francisco, arranged a position for Goya with the Royal Tapestry Workshop where he designed tapestry patterns from 1774 to 1792. In his designs Goya employed scenes of fishing and hunting, folk life, and country sides, all subjects influenced by French art. These tapestries, which showed the combined influences of Mengs and Tiepolo, adorned the walls of El Escorial and the Palacio Real de Pardo, which were the residences of the Spanish monarchs. This introduced Spanish royals to Goya's talent, and they began to allow him access to the royal court. Sir Lawrence Gowing observes that, The Parasol, a tapestry cartoon created by Goya during this time period, "strikes such a perfect balance between the ornate outlines of Tiepolo and the classical solidity of Mengs that it could be called one of the last great accomplishments of the Baroque school."

etching by Goya of Velazquez's Las Meninas, 1777-78, unknown location

etching by Goya of Velazquez's Las Meninas, 1777-78, unknown location

Once Goya was allowed into the royal court in Madrid, he would have access to the royal collection and be able to study the works of the Spanish masters. One of these masters was Diego Velazquez. Goya began working with etching from 1777-1778 and learned the technique of aquatint. He introduced himself to the works of Velazquez by etching a series of his paintings. Velazquez influenced Goya's artistic maturity more than any other artist of Goya's time.

The Crucifixion, 1780, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

The Crucifixion, 1780, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

Goya was not accepted as a Court Painter until much later, but in 1780 Goya was granted a commission to paint a canvas for the altar of the Church of San Francisco El Grande. This painting, The Crucifixion, earned him the honor of Academician and an appointment to the Royal Academy. For the next ten years Goya struggled to become Spain's leading painter. His work for prominent families of Madrid, such as the Osunas and the politician Floridablanca, continued to perpetuate Goya's artistic career. When Charles III died in 1788 and Charles IV ascended to the throne in 1789, revolution was building in France. Charles IV appointed Goya to the position of Court Painter, and he was now responsible for producing a whole series of royal portraits, continuing his tapestry designs, and completing an ever-increasing amount of commissions. Goya was aware of his increasing popularity in society, and produced several self-portraits.

Self-portrait of Goya

Self-portrait of Goya (standing), 1790-95, courtesy of Royal Academy of San Fernando

In the meantime, the threat of the French Revolution and the domination by his queen, Maria Luisa, and her Field Marshall, Godoy, caused Charles IV to fall into an emotional frenzy. In addition, many of Goya's pro-French friends were banished from Spain. It is perhaps because of these anxieties and exhaustion that Goya suffered a mysterious illness from 1792 to 1793. Some speculate that the illness was cholera that caused Goya to suffer from a high fever, resulting in deafness. Goya became withdrawn and introspective. He stayed with Sebastian Martinez, a private art collector, during the 5 years it took him to recuperate, at which time Goya's work took a new direction. As demonstrated in the paintings and prints in Martinez's collection, Goya discovered a new selection of subjects and images to paint. He also discovered a freedom from the limitations of patronage, and developed a new intensity and boldness in his work. As Goya convalesced, he read about the French Revolution and its ideas. He sank more into himself and became more aware of the depths of his own psyche and inner demons. He fantasized visions of cruelty and the macabre. He returned to painting at the end of 1790's, but his colors grew darker and his brushwork looser. Goya's style became more expressive as he depicted the grizzly, contorted, insanity caused by a growing social tension between the traditional Spain and the liberal ideas behind the French Revolution.

Caprichos etching It Is Time

Caprichos etching It Is Time, 1796-97, courtesy of Davidson Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

In 1799 a series of 80 etchings entitled Caprichos emerged. Many of the captioned plates from this series demonstrated the liberal thought of the day and the new, freer style Goya had developed during his illness. This broad, uninhibited style can be observed in all of Goya's work from this period and is evident in the earthy naturalism depicted in The Family of Charles IV, (1800-1801). Goya continued to be Court Painter even though he had outgrown it. His court portraits became caricatures exposing the weaknesses of his sitters. This can be observed in the facial features of Goya's Portrait of King Ferdinand VII of Spain in the Uniform of a General.

Portrait of King Ferdinand VII of Spain

Portrait of King Ferdinand VII of Spain in the Uniform of a General, 1814, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

From 1808 to 1814 the Spanish people endured the atrocities of the Napoleonic wars. These horrors filled Goya with such outrage that he used the full force of his painting to assault the insane behavior of his fellowman. The art that resulted from this attack contained no heroes, only killers and the dead. Napoleon forced the abdication of Charles IV, kidnapped Ferdinand, his heir, and took him to France. Napoleon appointed his brother, Joseph, King of Spain. Through all these events and the succession of a new Spanish court, Goya was still well received as Court Painter. In 1812 as Goya was completing his Disasters of War prints, and painting The 3rd of May 1808, his wife Josefa, passed away. Within a few years Goya's housekeeper, Dona Leocadia Weiss, moved in with him. Leocadia was 25 and Goya was 68 when she entered his household. She brought two children with her, Guillermo and Maria del Rosario, allegedly conceived during her marriage to don Isidore Weiss. She was separated from Weiss when she moved in with Goya. Scholars speculate that by the presence of the children in Goya's home, and especially Goya's public adoration of Rosario, that he was their true biological father. Rosario actually studied painting with Goya.

Woman Reading To Children, 1824-25

Woman Reading To Children, 1824-25

In 1814 the Spanish Monarchy was restored, King Ferdinand returned to the Spanish throne, but Goya was not met with the same cordiality as Ferdinand's predecessor. Goya was pardoned for serving the French, but the new king was not in favor of Goya's work. Ferdinand purged the new government of liberals and reinstalled the Inquisition. Goya came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition for his painting, The Nude Maja. Allegedly this painting was a portrait of Field Marshall Godoy's lover, and it was one of the few nudes in Spanish art at the time.

The Nude Maja

The Nude Maja, ca., 1797-80, courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Spain

In 1816 Goya published his Tauromaquia, a series of etchings on bullfighting. From 1819 to 1824 Goya lived in a house that he called Quinta del Sordo ("House of the Deafman") located outside of Madrid. Once again freed from court restraints, he developed an even more personal style.

In 1824 Goya voluntarily exiled himself to Bordeaux to escape Ferdinand's oppressive rule. He returned to Spain only for brief visits and continued to work at his home until his death on April 16, 1824. His housekeeper and mistress, Leocadia, and their daughter, Maria del Rosario, were with Goya at his deathbed.

The White Duchess

The White Duchess, 1795, courtesy of The Alba Collection, Madrid, Spain

Goya is rumored to have had an intimate relationship with the 13th Duchess of Alba (Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayelana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo). Goya executed several portraits of the Duchess while she was staying at Sanbicar de Barranneda shortly after her husband, the Duke of Medina-Sedona (Jose Maria Alvarez de Toledo y Gonsaga) died in 1796. The extent of their relationship has never been confirmed, but from the sheer amount of portraits he painted of her, it is suggested they at least had a very close friendship. The Duchess' personality is said to have been eccentric, and her relationship with Goya has caused some modern day curiosity in her life since her death over two centuries ago. The Duchess had an adopted daughter, but no children of her own.

Goya influenced artists of the Impressionistic, Expressionistic, and Surrealistic movements, some of whom were Monet and Picasso. Eugene Delacroix is said to have been one of Goya's greatest admirers.


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