Published for the first time in the 1987 sale, this drawing comes from the Black Border Album, one of Goya's celebrated private albums. The album drawings, which explore every aspect of Goya's fertile imagination, were not preparatory studies for paintings or prints, but independent works which acted as a form of visual journal. The present drawing, like many of those from the Black Border Album, offers a tantalising glimpse of Goya's attitudes to the moral, political and social predicaments of contemporary Spain.
Goya and the Black Border Album
During the last thirty years of his life Goya executed a series of some 550 drawings which represented scenes of everyday life and situations which illuminate human nature, in all its shades of hope, despair, pomposity and frailty. Collected into eight albums, these drawings were not executed for the public gaze, as were Goya's prints and paintings, but for more private contemplation: that of the artist himself and a circle of intimate friends. This select audience allowed Goya to explore freely the social and moral problems of his day, sometimes with underlying political subversion.
The present drawing comes from the Black Border Album, so called from the distinctive framing lines which give the drawings the impression of being works of art in their own right, and also known as Album E following the chronology proposed by Eleanor Sayre in 1958 ('An Old Man Writing: A Study of Goya's Albums', Boston Museum Bulletin, LVI, pp. 116-36). Particularly refined, highly finished and larger than sheets from Goya's other albums, the Black Border drawings have always been particularly sought after by collectors. In the exhibition catalogue Goya: Drawings from his Private Albums (Hayward Gallery, 2001), Juliet Wilson Bareau dated the album to 1816-20, noting that the fine Dutch paper and good-quality India inks show that Goya was no longer suffering from the scarcity of artistic materials that faced him during the years of the Peninsular War. The figures in this album have a weight and monumentality which is rarely found in other albums and Goya often presents them in splendid isolation against the blank white of the surrounding paper, with only the slightest hint of their location - such as the grass which curls around the feet of the hunter in this drawing. The contrast between the stark white of the paper and the creamy washes is particularly powerful in this sheet due to its remarkable condition.
The present drawing also shows the extensive use of a technique which became characteristic of Goya's later drawings. He would build up the figure in successive layers of indian ink and carefully modulated washes, which range from the deep, velvety shadows on the hunter's trousers to the almost translucent wash on the brim of his cap. Afterwards Goya would take a razor blade or small knife and scrape off parts of the wash to lighten areas, make corrections or to add a vivid sense of texture to parts of the drawing, such as the roughened jacket of the hunter.
The Provenance of the Drawing
All eight of the albums were broken up after Goya's death by his son Javier (1784-1854), who pasted them into larger bindings and made some slight changes to the order dictated by Goya's numbering. Thus this drawing, which initially formed sheet no. 27 in the Black Border Album, became no. 20 in Javier's reassembled album. Javier's son Mariano Goya y Goicoechea, who inherited the albums after Javier's death in 1854, sold many of the drawings to the painter Federico de Madrazo (1815-1894), who later became Director of the Prado. After having been forced to leave this post in 1868, Madrazo had to sell some of his collection and the Goya drawings appeared in a sale at Drouot in Paris on the afternoon of 3 April 1877, consigned by Paul Lebas, who is thought to have been acting on Madrazo's behalf. After this sale, the various album drawings were so widely dispersed that their original groupings and ordering have been only recently re-established: first through the work of Eleanor Sayre, and more recently through the research of Pierre Gassier and Juliet Wilson Bareau.
The present drawing was purchased at the Drouot sale by Emile Calando (1840-1899), whose select collection also included at least two other Goya drawings of hunters, both from the Images of Spain Album (Album F; nos. F.99 and F.106). More recently, it formed part of the collection of Richard S. Davis (1917-1985), former Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, by whose estate it was sold, along with a drawing by Guardi, at Christie's in 1987.
A Most Unique Hunter
The theme of the hunter appears frequently in Goya's art in the years around 1819. The Images of Spain Album (also called Album F), datable to 1812-20, contained at least eleven studies of hunters numbered between 97 and 105 in the album sequence. These free, lively drawings show men fixing game in their sights, reloading their guns and retrieving the game from their faithful dogs. Without inscriptions, they seem to be simply images of everyday life: the excitement, tension and accomplishment of a hunting expedition. Goya himself had been an enthusiastic hunter in his youth in Saragossa and in 1819 he bought a farm just outside Madrid, where he was once again able to feel a sense of connection with the countryside. His pleasure at finding this rural retreat might have encouraged him to embark on the series of hunting studies from Album F, which is the only extended series of consecutive album drawings which follow a single subject.
Although the present drawing may have been executed at roughly the same date as these carefree celebrations of the hunt, it is quite different in spirit. Goya's inscription suggests, on one level, that the hunting expedition has not been successful: 'Si yerras los tiros!' can be translated as either 'If you are wide of the mark' or 'If you miss the mark'. However, the 1989 exhibition catalogue argued that the inscription can be interpreted in another, more subversive way.
The Spanish phrase 'errar el tiro' can be used idiomatically to mean that someone has been deceived or cheated. The pose of the dog in this drawing is very unusual. It stands with hind quarters and tail raised, back arched and taut, and head lowered but facing ahead, with ears raised, fully tense and alert in spotting its quarry - but it faces the hunter rather than away from him. The 1989 catalogue suggested that the hunter may, unwittingly, have become the hunted: that he is the dog's prey.
In the 1989 catalogue entry, this drawing was linked to the tradition within European art of the hunter being hunted. It was compared, in particular, to Georg Pencz's woodcut Hunters Hunted by Hares (1534-35; Hollstein 141; Fig. 1), in which the reversion of the natural order was accompanied by a commentary quoting Seneca on the overthrow of tyrants. This connection suggests that the drawing may be understood as a commentary on the political situation of the time: the hunter, smartly dressed in élite costume, takes the faithfulness of his dog for granted, without being aware that it is ready to turn on him. If we are to understand the study as a political allegory, the historical context of the time suggests that the hunter could represent none other than the newly-restored King of Spain, Ferdinand VII.
Goya and King Ferdinand VII
At the date that he executed this drawing, Goya was deeply troubled by the state of Spanish society. During the French domination of Madrid and the rule of Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte, the Spanish people had longed for the return of their rightful king Ferdinand VII, who became an idol of hope during the days of the guerrilla war against Napoleonic forces in Madrid, a period which Goya immortalised in his series of engravings The Disasters of War (1810-12). When Ferdinand VII did return to the throne in 1814, however, the hopes of his people were disappointed: he reacted against the liberal policies which Joseph Bonaparte had attempted to introduce and, as a consequence, plunged Spain back into the atmosphere of oppression and feudalism which it had only recently begun to escape. Goya, whose innate sympathy for humanity made him a natural liberal, expressed his sense of betrayal through his private album drawings.
Goya had met Ferdinand briefly in 1808, during the young King's few months in power after the abdication of Charles IV, but although there were plans for a portrait, none was painted. After Ferdinand's restoration in 1814, Goya did paint a series of portraits but these were commissioned by loyal courtiers, not by the King himself, and were apparently based on the sketches from 1808. The most impressive of this series is Goya's full-length Portrait of Ferdinand VII, now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (P. Gassier and J. Wilson, Goya: His Life and Work, London, 1971, no. 1539; Fig. 2). In their catalogue raisonné, Gassier and Wilson noted that the lack of any official commission for Goya from the King is 'an indication of the antipathy which the two men certainly felt for each other' (Gassier and Wilson, op. cit., p. 222). Things can only have been worsened by the fact that Goya was included among the court employees who were purged by Ferdinand on his return to the throne. Although he was later reinstated, he was so embittered that he considered leaving Spain altogether.
Even in the privacy of Goya's albums, the link between King and hunter had to be suggested rather than stated explicitly. However, the hunter's facial features have a tantalising similarity to Ferdinand's physiognomy as seen in Goya's Prado portrait. Here is the same bulbous nose; the same suggestion of a thin moustache on the upper lip and the same thin, slightly pinched mouth. Moreover, the elegance of the hunter's clothing is remarkable. Unlike the practical, hard-wearing attire of the hunters in Album F, he wears an open-necked shirt and what appears to be a smoking-jacket. His light footwear, worn with striped socks, is unsuitable for the marshy grass. There is no sign of the packs or game-bags, boots, buttoned-up collars and wide-brimmed hats that appear in the Album F drawings. His stately pose recalls the portraits of Velazquez, who showed King Philip IV and his brother Don Fernando in hunting clothes, posed with their guns and accompanied by faithful dogs at their feet (J. López-Rey, Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of his Oeuvre, London, 1963, nos. 250 and 331; Fig. 3).
The political subtext of the drawing is also supported by the page which followed it in the Black Border Album: Pobre e gnuda bai filosofia (Private Collection, USA; Gassier, Complete Albums, no. E.28; Goya en tiempos de guerra, exhib. cat., Museo del Prado, 2008, no. 174). Here Goya shows Philosophy as a humble, ragged peasant girl, her eyes raised to heaven as she contemplates the meaning of her book. Gassier argued that Goya wished to present Philosophy as an occupation worthy of all levels of society, not just the élite, and that the drawing is also an allusion to the instinctive wisdom of the humbler classes. The juxtaposition between the two images emphasises the contrast between the wisdom of the poor and the folly of the arrogant élite, who give so little thought to their social inferiors that they cannot see the potential for revolution.
This drawing's warning about oppression and the potential for popular revolt was prophetic: the widespread discontent with Ferdinand's rule erupted into civil war in 1820. The revolutionary party, which was led by army officers, demanded a return to the liberal principles which had been laid down in the 1812 constitution and had since been revoked by Ferdinand. The rebellion was ultimately suppressed by French forces, but it proves the febrile nature of Spanish politics at this period and the simmering resentment of Ferdinand as king. It also adds a searing contemporary significance to this drawing, in which the calm, solidly-planted huntsman waits for his dog to do his work for him, blindly unaware that the dog's pose threatens an imminent reversal of the established order.