This drawing comes from Album D, also called Witches and Old Women Album. Before its reappearance only 21 sheets were known, all except one in public collections. The surviving drawings are only numbered as high as '23' and the album was probably left unfinished. They are on a strong Dutch paper, the same as used in Album B, known as the Madrid Album.
Two women are falling through the air: one, grinning broadly, grabs the hair of the other who screams in pain. It is hard to know if the two figures (is it a couple?) who are floating at the top (one is holding a tambourine) are embracing each other or are in the midst of a serious fight. The descent of the figures is emphasized by the movement of their clothing. Intense patches of black and grey tones along with overlaid rapid, free strokes and the scraping creating lighter areas also help to suggest the falling movement. The two figures at the top are completely covered by dark wash almost as if they are only shadows. In contrast, portions of the bodies of the two old women in the foreground are left blank, conveying an almost sculptural quality and giving the illusion that they are ready to spring from the page.
Goya had at first titled the drawing in black chalk at the bottom centre: 'Bajan riñendo' (They go down quarrelling), but he later added the words 'Vision de' and corrected 'Bajan' into 'bajar', transforming the inscription into 'Vision de bajar riñendo' (Vision: going down quarrelling). If the number inscribed by Goya in brown ink over a previous '2' in black chalk is in fact a '1', then this sheet began the album. It is revealing of Goya's method of organizing his albums that the drawing he then numbered '2' (in the Louvre, Gassier, 1973, op. cit., no. 96 [D.2]) is titled 'Suben alegres' (They rise merrily). In contrast to the present drawing, the latter shows a woman, holding castanets in her right hand and a punctured tambourine in her left, flying through the air, accompanied by an old man. As he rises, he grips a tambourine with both hands. The joy on their faces contrasts dramatically with the expression of terror of the woman whose hair is grabbed on the present sheet. It is a common idea that when things are going badly, they go 'down', but everyone is happy when things are 'up'. This theme could indeed be illustrated fully in this drawing if we accept the fact that the two figures at the top are actually rising while embracing each other. The two other would then be falling only because they started a fight... The first few pages of Album D and some later ones also show flying figures.
Rising through the air and floating are often seen as symbols of sexual pleasure. Goya used this image with the same meaning in several works, as in Capricho 68, Linda maestra (A fine Teacher!) (fig. 1) where two naked witches fly on a broomstick.
There has been much debate about the dating of the drawings from Album D. As they are on the same paper as Album B used in 1796-7, and as Goya in the 'Sueños' drawings (P. Gassier, The drawings of Goya. The sketches, studies and individual drawings, London, 1975, nos. 43-4) used for prints of the Caprichos (1799) had depicted the transformation into witches and warlocks of bawds and clerics who indulged in vice, Pierre Gassier was inclined to date Album D around 1800. Eleanor Sayre placed these drawings much later, circa 1816-7. Juliet Wilson-Bareau, in the Hayward Gallery exhibition catalogue, pushed the date even later, circa 1819-1823, comparing the scenes in Album D to the Black Paintings that Goya executed around 1820 in his property known as the Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man). With their broad and expressionistic brushwork, the images of Album D seem also to announce the miniatures on ivory that Goya would paint later in Bordeaux : 'these album drawings both describe and suggest, moving easily between a perfectly controlled grasp of sharp, expressive detail and a splendidly broad, free manner - "more like the brushwork of Velázquez than of Mengs", as Goya wrote of his miniatures' (J. Wilson-Bareau, Goya drawings from his private albums, exhib. cat., London, Hayward Gallery, 2001, p. 136). The grimacing stocky figures in Vision de bajar riñendo can also be compared to those drawn in the two Bordeaux Albums executed in black chalk between 1825 and 1828. In these Goya represented flying figures on several occasions (see, for example, Gassier, 1973, op. cit., nos. 404 [G46], 443 [H27], 448 [H32] or 471 [H59]).
These images of figures flying against a blank background, possibly inspired by compositions of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo whom Goya deeply admired, would appeal later to many artists of the 20th Century, especially Surrealists like Max Ernst (fig. 2) who explored the subject in many of his works, making it one of the central themes of his oeuvre.
We thank Juliet Wilson-Bareau for her kind help in cataloguing this drawing.