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Los Caprichos, a set of eighty etchings by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya y Lucientes published in 1799, is one of the most influential series of graphic images in the history of Western art. This exhibition features a fine first edition of the complete set of the etchings originally acquired in the late 19th century by the greatest donor to the Prado, Fernandes Duran, Marquis de Peralta.
Included in the exhibition for comparison are other works by Goya: four later edition prints from Los Caprichos; two examples of early etchings after Velasquez; 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 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.
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 an 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.
The first certain record of the full set of Los Caprichos is a receipt dated January 17, 1799, for the four copies bought by the duke of Osuna. A month later two newspaper announcements appeared in the Diario on Wednesday, February 6, and in the Gazeta on Tuesday, February 19, 1799 (España Moderna, No. 138, Madrid, 1900), to the effect that a collection of prints of fanciful subjects, invented and etched by Don Francisco Goya, was on sale at a perfume and liqueur shop in the Calle del Desengaño 1, Madrid, for 320 reales for each book of eighty engravings. Goya lived at the Calle del Desengaño 1 from 1779 until at least 1784. An early draft by Goya of an advertisement for the series shows that he was proposing to sell them through a bookseller; he must have been unable to find anyone interested in the project and was forced to put them on sale in the shop below his apartment, surrounded by bottles of liqueurs and perfumes.
The exhibition includes an essay contributed by Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator in Charge, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In his essay for the exhibition, Johnson takes a fresh approach to Los Caprichos. He writes, “Francisco Goya should be seen as the first modern artist--he chose to go beyond depictions of religion, mythology, and history, and even beyond observation of the visible world, turning instead toward the psychological demons that have always inhabited men’s souls. Until Goya, these demons had rarely been made artistically visible--Goya had the courage and the genius to depict them. ...Los Caprichos stands as the greatest single work of art created in Spain since the writings of Cervantes and the paintings of Velázquez over one hundred fifty years earlier. These astonishing prints have cast a dark shadow of inspiration over generations of artists since their creation. …the imagery unleashed in the unrelentingly dark and cynical series of Los Caprichos continues to provoke and disturb our contemporary consciousness--even after two centuries! That is the essence of great art, to endure, and to continue to have relevance.”
Johnson has also added his own illuminating observations to each of the eighty plates of Los Caprichos, and has undertaken an enlightening comparison between three interpretive manuscripts contemporary with Goya discussing each of the individual plates. These are known as the “Prado,” the “Ayala,” and the “Madrid Biblioteca Nacional,” manuscripts.
exhibition has been developed by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los
Angeles, CA, in association with Denenberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood,
CA. The museum tour has been organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions
which, since 1967, has presented more that 500 fine art and
architecture exhibitions at museums and university galleries throughout