GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de (1746-1828)
Los Desastres de la Guerra (D. 120-199; H. 121-200)
The complete set of eighty etchings with burnished aquatint, drypoint and engraving, 1810-20, with text and biographical essay, Harris's Edition 1a, with only plate 47 corrected, the seven other plates before corrections, fine impressions, on wove paper, watermark J.G.O. and Palmette or none, published by the Real Academia de Nobles Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, 1863, with margins, twelve plates with areas of brown staining in the margin, occasionally just touching the subject, each plate trimmed slightly at the left sheet edge and mounted on paper guards, generally in very good condition, bound in green marbled boards (album)
Plate: 6 x 8 in., 154 x 210mm.
Sheet: 9 5/8 x 12 3/4 in., 245 x 325 mm. (average)
The eighty etchings which make up Los Desastres de la Guerra are perhaps the most uncompromising artistic record of conflict ever produced. They were not intended to illustrate specific wartime events, but were instead the result of Goya's journey through the ravaged landscape of his native country in 1808 at the start of Napoleon's Spanish campaign, his experience of the famine in Madrid that ensued, and his reaction to a deeply repressive Spanish monarchy after 1814.
The brutality of the images was matched by a similar boldness of technique, and in many prints the grain of the aquatint is an abstract veil, a stark backdrop to the frenzied and chaotic events on center stage. Unlike official war artists, Goya was not obliged to represent the grand-scale drama of major battles; instead he concentrated on rural guerrilla combat, the destruction of rural communities and the suffering endured by his adopted city of Madrid. The importance of the witness becomes particularly crucial in a time of war, when so many of the participants are never known and so many of the dead never identified. Goya faced particular practical difficulties at the time, and was forced to re-use old etching plates and inferior materials. The fact that he persisted in completing such a large series of prints may have been fuelled by outrage.
The tyranny of King Ferdinand VII's rule following the war meant that this important series was to remain unpublished in Goya's lifetime. When the Academia finally issued them in 1863 their capacity to shock was still palpable, and the publishers even saw fit to make alterations to the text to soften the impact.
The Desastres are Goya's deeply personal, non-partisan and human response to his experience of conflict, and his reaction to the public myths, nightmares, and visions which circulate in any country at the time of war. Like all great art, however, Goya's vision transcends the specific place and time in which they were born, and his terrible creation continues to resonate profoundly in the modern era.