Francisco de Goya created his final and most enigmatic print series in the years between 1815 and 1824. The series was published under the title Los Proverbios, although Goya's own captions for the working proofs include the word 'disparates', meaning 'follies'. As a result, this print series is known by both titles.
Like Goya's 'black' paintings, begun in 1819 after his recovery from a serious illness and filled with macabre visions, Los Proverbios are imbued with an overwhelming sense of pessimism and appear to reflect Goya's precarious mental state at the time. Each of the etchings depicts isolated figures in dark, often nightmarish landscapes. While some plates appear harmlessly satirical, others depict gruesome monsters or attacks on innocents. The compositions have few precedents and virtually no parallels in 19th century art, but may be connected with the artist's interest in carnival themes, which he had often explored in his sketchbooks. It is doubtful that Goya ever intended them for a wider public.
The fate of the plates after completion is only partly understood. It is known that the series originally comprised 22 plates, and these were left with Goya's son Xavier upon the artist's departure from Spain, remaining hidden until Xavier's death in 1854. Eighteen of them passed through two owners before coming to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1862, where they were cleaned and published in a first, posthumous edition in 1864 - it was at this point the proverbs were assigned. Meanwhile the four remaining plates had made their way to Paris, where they were discovered in the early 1870's. They were eventually published in the French periodical L'Art in 1877.