GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco (1746-1828). [Los Caprichos. Madrid: probably printed by Rafael Esteve for the artist, 1799.]
A very rare presentation copy of the first edition, with very fine early impressions of all the aquatints, and in a strictly contemporary Madrid binding presumably commissioned by Goya. The prints were pulled in light sepia ink, here with deeply impressed plate-marks and full margins. The impression of plate 45 shows the scratch on the face of the background figure, which appeared immediately after the few trial proofs. In crisp and fresh condition (only the tissue guards with some offsetting and occasional fox-marks), this presentation set of the prints is apparently the only one in private hands. In institutional collections, too, presentation inscriptions by Goya are of the greatest rarity (one is recorded in the Minneapolis Institute of Art).
Los Caprichos is the earliest in the sequence of Goya’s four great intaglio series. This original edition consisted of some 300 sets, the present one belonging to the first issue of about 27 copies that were sold or presented in the first four years after printing. The edition size had no doubt been too ambitious. In order to realize the project Goya and Esteve needed to pull 24,000 impressions on their intaglio press (80 plates x 300 pulls). The artist announced the publication in the Diario de Madrid of 6th February 1799 as being for sale in a perfume and liqueur shop, above which he lived. In 1803 he presented the original copperplates and the unsold sets to Charles IV’s Real Calcograf?a, from which sales proceeded very slowly over several decades: a second edition did not appear until 1855 and ten more editions were subsequently produced from the worn plates into the 20th century.
Goya’s caprices, generally considered his finest work, have acquired universal significance, but many themes and allusions – satirical or not – have defied interpretation other than that they relate to society’s follies. Fearing the Inquisition and political forces, he disguised the true meaning of many of these prints and kept their titles ironically ambiguous. In his public announcement he therefore had to stress that “in none of the compositions that form this collection has the author proposed to ridicule the particular faults of one or another individual …” For a full account of the background, development and meaning of this series, see F.I. Heckes, “Goya’s Caprichos” on the web-site of the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, www.ngv.vic.gov.au. Delteil 38-117; Harris I, pp.7, 10, 62-63, 95-133 and II, pp.62-158 and nos.36-115.
Quarter broadsheets (295 x 202mm), a single uniform stock of unwatermarked Royal-size laid paper. The complete suite of 80 plates: etchings with burnished aquatint, many with drypoint and/or burin (only the tissue guards with some offsetting and occasional spotting). Fine strictly contemporary Madrid binding by Pasqual Carsí y Vidal [signed with his black-on-green label], presumably commissioned for presentation by Goya: crimson morocco, over pasteboard, decorated in gold to a neo-classical design, multiple roll-tooled borders including broad fillets and a Greek-key pattern on the sides, flat spine tooled in compartments with birds, vases, cables, sunbursts, floral and leafy ornament, blue morocco on-lay gold-lettered with title: Pensamiento de F. Goya, gilt edges, original marbled endpapers, pairs of chancery-size laid-paper flyleaves, original tissue guards (extreme corners restored, joints and headcap slightly rubbed, otherwise in bright condition); modern green-morocco pull-off case. In the 1780s, at the expense of King Carlos III of Spain, CarsÍ y Vidal made a trip to England, where he became influenced by the neo-classical fashion. A closely related signed binding in the Charles Ramsden Collection is reproduced in the British Library Database of Bookbindings.
Provenance: Presentation copy inscribed in French and signed by the artist: “offert Par L’auteur … f. goya”. Although the recipient’s name has been erased, traces remain and there is little doubt that she was María Josefa Pimental (1752-1834), Countess and Duchess of Benavente, wife of Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna. Important patrons of the arts, both the Duke and Duchess were portrayed by Goya. An original impression of his 1794 portrait of Doña MarÍa Josefa, engraved by Fernando Selma (140 x 95mm), is mounted on verso of the second fly-leaf, as is a contemporary typographical dedicatory formula listing all her titles (35 lines) – 19th-century French manuscript, 15 lines listing the subjects of 20 plates, mounted on recto of the same fly-leaf – Félix Solar (Paris sale, November 1860, lot 634) – François Ragazzoni (Paris sale, May 2003, lot 38).