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February 04, 2005

Hughes on Goya

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

FYI, a video documentary about Goya by the terrific art critic Robert Hughes will have its first airing on the Ovation network tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 pm EST.

Other showtimes:

Wednesday, February 09, 2005 - 4:00:00 PM
Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 8:30:00 PM
Friday, February 18, 2005 - 12:30:00 AM
Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 3:00:00 PM
Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 8:00:00 PM
Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:00:00 AM
Monday, February 28, 2005 - 9:30:00 PM
Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 1:30:00 AM

Ovation's site is here. A page about the documentary is here. I haven't seen the show yet -- but this is Goya, and this is Hughes. How can it not be worth watching?



posted by Michael at February 4, 2005


Spent a couple hours looking at Goyas last night at the WGA. Was disappointed in most of the earlier oils, with one or two exceptions the portraits looked stiff and cartoonish. One exception was very nice. The self-portrait was good. But compare the "Naked Maja" to Titian's "Venus of Urbino" and you will see what I mean. Etty did a better nude.

But then there is the late stuff and the etchings and drawings. Which is another story. So maybe Goya had better ideas than skills or talent, and might have been better served as a poet or something.

Just one philistine's ignorant first impression. Tell me why Goya is good.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 4, 2005 7:40 PM

Due to the lack of appropriate vocabulary and adequate ability to express on my part may I recommend this book (that is, if you could find it; they say it's out of print unfortunately)?

Posted by: Tatyana on February 4, 2005 8:35 PM

Ok, I knew I must be wrong, so I went back to WGA and read the text accompanying many pictures. The unkown author talks of Goya's "stiff and ascetic" portraiture, his disinclination to have his models smile. His transference of a cartoonish style from the early tapestries to later landscapes.

"Goya_Francisco_Doña Isabel de Porcel_1804" This I liked because it had character and animation. A failed Goya, I suppose.

Girodet_de_Roucy_Anne_Mademoiselle Lange as Danae_1799.

This is no idealized nude, and I do not understand why WGA calls the Maja "unprecedented in Europe". The lack of mythological subject matter is so important? Goya a genius cause he shows pubic hair?

Vigee_Le_Brun_Elisabeth_Portrait_of_Countess_Golovine_1797-1800 This woman did portraits that actually make me smile. I like her women, they look like people I might know.

So Goya was sending an artistic message by making his female subjects look as unattractive and forbidding as possible? Lucien Freud with a mask, De Kooning before his time. No wonder he didn't get commissions. Is this about romanticism, the artist as great sufferer? Francisco Goya, early modernist.

I probably spend too much time at ARC.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 4, 2005 9:35 PM

Not enough flame wars in your comments sections, Blowhard :)

You know what, after a year of looking at paintings (and I know very well than quantity doesn't make up for quality, and maybe I am looking but not seeing) I don't much like Robert Hughes either.

I spent some time last week looking at Egon Schiele, for God's sake, and although some of his stuff was pretty rough, I downloaded a lot more of Schiele's portraits than Goya's, for I actually could detect some care for his subjects in Schiele's hyperrealism.

Fred Ross has gotten to me. I think I understand fairly well Goya's appeal to certain modern sensibilities. I don't have to share them. He is ugly, and paints ugly art.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 4, 2005 10:08 PM

So has Hughes made a second film about Goya or is this one just getting its American premiere? Cos there was one on TV here in Australia two or three years ago by Hughes on the same subject (to go along with his book on Goya which appeared around the same time).

Posted by: James Russell on February 5, 2005 12:40 AM

I actually could detect some care for his subjects in Schiele's hyperrealism

Well Schiele was his own favourite subject (this is a man who once told his own mother—without any apparent irony—how blessed she was for having given birth to him), so obviously he was going to take care with his portraits...

Posted by: James Russell on February 5, 2005 12:42 AM

bob mcmanus,

Have to agree with you about Goya, as a painter. His drawings and etchings are another matter. Leaving the subject matter aside, Goya was a body man, both male and female; gets across a terrific sense of the body's thickness, weight, thrust; in other words the physicality of the physical. Picasso was another one who could do that (when he was in the mood).

By the way, I don't like Hughes either. For me it's not so much his art criticism as his insufferable political correctness.

Posted by: ricpic on February 5, 2005 11:08 AM

FWIW, I started to feel (rightly or wrongly) that I was getting Goya when I gave up trying to figure out in what sense he was a "great artist," and started taking him instead more as a kind of satirical/horror cartoonist. A kind of Hogarth putting his talents to work as a court painter and then finally letting all the bugs and bats fly in the late work. Then he started to look great to me -- but like a great horror cartoonist, not like a great "painter" in the sense that a Raphael or a Titian was. He seemed to me to be playing a very different game than they were. Like I say, FWIW.

James - I suspect it's the same show. Why would he have made two? Did you catch it when it aired down your way? Here's hoping it's good.

You guys don't like Hughes' vigor and vividness? I mean, he's such a good writer, at least much of the time, and he can really help me see what he's talking about. You don't find? He can get coarse and overbearing, but at least he isn't twee, and god knows he loves opening fire with both barrels at the silliness of artschool theorizing, and bless him for that. He's left, but he can be pretty caustic about lefty silliness too. But none of that works for you? Whose work do you like better as an art critic?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 5, 2005 11:24 AM

Miles Mathis On Robert Hughes

I stand before you as someone who really knows nothing about art. I loved Shock of the New, and a few years ago couldn't stand Rembrandt because he wasn't Rothko. I have changed. I like Modernism, and am not a conservative, but think Modernism should be recognized as simply fashion and style, not progress or Enlightenment. Hughes is ok, I exaggerate my dislike.

I expect I brought too many expectations to Goya. Michael sums it up well. I saw something that looked like a Reynolds, Gainsborough, or Ingres, painted contemporaneously, but felt really really off. I am not Fred Ross;I actually like Bacon and Otto Dix...but I guess I like my alienation a little more overt. "Colossus" "Saturn Eating" the late stuff is great, but early Goya felt insulting and contemptuous. Does this make any sense?

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 5, 2005 12:59 PM

The first of these is the TIMES review of Hughes' book on Goya (interestingly, by a Hogarth expert) and the second is a Goya article which appeared in TIMES Magazine a year and a half ago.

Bringing Forth Monsters
Published: November 23, 2003, Sunday
By Robert Hughes.
Illustrated. 429 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf. $40.

Robert Hughes's account of Goya's life and art is dazzling, disturbing and intensely personal. A crisis in Hughes's own life, we learn, unblocked his long attempt to explore Goya's dark genius -- a terrible car crash resulting in months of pain and operations, but also leading to a deep recognition: ''It may be that the writer who does not know fear, despair and pain cannot fully know Goya.''

In other ways, this is an autobiographical study. It begins in the author's youth, in an Australia where ''etchings'' meant the sub-Rubens soft porn of Norman Lindsay's prints hanging in bar-rooms and back parlors, as Hughes buys, almost by chance, Goya's print ''The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters,'' the man slumped at his desk while leering owls bat about his head. It returns too, to Hughes's Roman Catholic education: one of the things he thanks the master for is spurring him on the road to being an ex-Catholic. At every turn we hear the author's inimitable, rolling voice -- witty, broad and keen as a knife. He tumbles Goya's world into ours with zestful, anachronistic allusions to tabloid headlines, topless bars, royal gossip or ''that saint of kitsch sentiment, Princess Di.''

You may resist this, but don't be fooled into thinking this fine, superbly illustrated book is self-indulgent: the modernity is deliberate and the personal note gives Hughes's scholarship and technical analysis a raw, quick edge. We feel the painful immediacy of Goya's work, as if we had one skin less. Noting Goya's unsettling closeness, Hughes probes the reasons for his enduring power. At one point, describing the painting ''Bandit Stripping a Woman,'' he notes that she is shielding her face -- but from whom? Not from her rapist, but from the presumed artist, and from us. When Goya captions one of his prints in the ''Disasters of War'' series ''Yo Lo Vi,'' (''I Have Seen It''), we know that he has -- and can't shirk the fact that we are seeing it too. No 20th-century artist, Hughes claims, ''could successfully make eloquent and morally urgent art out of human disaster,'' so how could Goya achieve it two centuries before?

''The Sleep of Reason'' hovers in the mind, both as the author's youthful introduction to Goya and as an embodiment of the puzzles Goya presents to us all. He is a realist who knows the force of the irrational, the counterworld of dreams and nightmares, and his depiction of superstition, of witchcraft and demons, is in fact part of his ''realism.'' When Hughes discusses the print in context, as the best known of Goya's ''Caprichos,'' he carefully unpacks the iconography, noting how the owls, emblems of stupidity, are balanced by the watchful lynx, a creature, it was believed, that ''could see through the thickest darkness and immediately tell truth from error.'' The dozing intellectual is Goya himself -- the owl is offering him an artist's chalk.

Hughes places Goya's career firmly and vividly in the struggles of Spanish history and culture. Born Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, in a small village in 1746, he was the son of a master gilder, a craftsman from Zaragoza, but his mother came from the hidalgo class, the minor aristocracy whose poverty-stricken arrogance blighted rural Spain. As a young man he went to Madrid to study with his future brother-in-law, Francisco Bayeu, and after a visit to Italy in 1770 found work with Bayeu designing exuberant cartoons for the tapestries in the royal palaces of Carlos III. His themes were the popular entertainments, the street theater, musicians and fairs that he himself loved. Goya adored country life, particularly hunting, a taste he shared with the king, but he also relished the city, with its Francophile fashion victims, the petimetres and their opposites, the sexy, earthy girls known as maja, and their tough majo partners. (In one self-portrait he wears the bullfighter's short majo jacket.)

Goya was on his way. Soon he would paint the king himself, and his family. The Bourbon Carlos III was awkward, despotic, but also -- to a very limited degree -- a ''liberal'' monarch, and Goya's patrons were mostly ilustrados, men and women trying to drag Spain into the new age of the Enlightenment, trying to reform agriculture, to introduce industry, to duck the censorship of the Inquisition by building private libraries, collecting the works of Voltaire and Diderot, and the prints of Hogarth, Rowlandson and Gillray. Through them, Goya's worldview widened. As an artist he learned from the fierce English satirists, but he learned too from the paintings of Velázquez, hanging in the palaces, and from the current court painters, the moralizing, neoclassical Anton Mengs and the elderly, fantastical Tiepolo. Commissions rolled in and his technique developed at headlong speed. Hughes writes wonderfully about the sensual delight of his early portraits and gives swift, sure character sketches of his subjects, like the impressive Duchess of Osuna, unafraid to campaign on issues from women's prisons to children's education and vaccination.

Goya was making money, buying fast carriages, smelling success. But then, in 1792, at the age of 46, he fell ill and fled Madrid for the south. His disease is hard to identify, perhaps polio or meningitis, but for months he was dizzy, feverish and semiblind -- and when he returned he was stone deaf. Until the end of his life he inhabited silence. Darkness reared to the surface in small cabinet pictures of bullfights (a lifelong fascination), bandits, prisons and madmen. Yet he regained his position under the new king, Carlos IV, and his wife, María Luisa, and went on to paint his glowing portraits of the Duchess of Alba. One of these, the Gainsborough-like ''White Duchess,'' with her gauzy dress and little dog, was for public display, but the erotic ''Black Duchess,'' where she points to the phrase ''Sólo Goya'' scrawled at her feet, was indeed for Goya alone. Despite this evidence of obsession, Hughes rejects the idea of an affair, and is adamant that the frank ''Naked Maja'' and demure ''Clothed Maja'' of a few years later merely share a mass of dark ringlets with the potent duchess. Instead, he suggests, the maja is the mistress of the ambitious Manuel de Godoy, first minister and alleged lover of the queen.

Goya could still paint happiness, as his rosy, drifting angels in the church of St. Anthony of Padua show, but by now his pessimism was ingrained. We feel it strongly in the ferocious dark prints of the ''Caprichos'' of 1796-97, which slash at hypocritical marriage, at exploitative whores, quack doctors, grim superstition and at the torments of the Inquisition, the ''black legend'' that Goya loathed with the hatred of the ''passionate humanist.'' These great prints did not sell. But at least they were published, unlike the brave, desperate ''Disasters of War'' series. These were made two decades later, after Spain had been devastated first by the Napoleonic invasion and then by the Peninsular War, in which the British under Wellington (his war-weary face hauntingly drawn by Goya) fought alongside the terrifying local guerrillas. Atrocities abounded, on both sides: for Goya, as the ''Disasters'' show, there is no glory in war, only spilled guts, orphans, lynching, rape, pain, blood and despair.

A flash of hope came for Spanish liberals with the Constitution of 1812, which Goya celebrated with a painting of radiant angels. But this too passed. Two years later Fernando VII was back. Partly to quash hints of collaboration, Goya now begged to paint the glorious moment when Madrid rose against the invaders. In ''Third of May 1808,'' the white-shirted man raising his arms and baring his throat to the anonymous firing squad seems to foreshadow all those conflicts to come in which the people will face the mechanized brutality of modern war.

Goya was now almost 70. He retreated first to his farmhouse outside Madrid, covering its walls with the great ''Black Paintings,'' as if he inhabited a world in which demons, howling mobs and fearful cannibal fathers were his true companions. In the end, he retreated still further, leaving his beloved country to cross the border to France, where he died in 1828. But if, as Hughes shows in this meticulous and moving study, Goya was quintessentially Spanish, straddling the line between ''Old Spain'' and its enlightened dreams, his art crosses all borders, of time and place, reason and unreason, joyous life and violent death.

Jenny Uglow is the author of ''Hogarth: A Life and a World'' and ''The Lunar Men.''

The Secret of the Black Paintings By ARTHUR LUBOW (NYT) 3257 words
Published: July 27, 2003

Venerated as the first modern artist, Francisco Goya produced nothing more abrasively modern than the series of 14 images known as the Black Paintings, which a half-century after his death were cut from the walls of his country house on the outskirts of Madrid. Even today, when you come upon them in the sanitized confines of the Prado Museum, these nightmarish visions can unmoor you. An ancient crone grins ghoulishly over a bowl of food; a demonic figure whispers in the ear of a stooped old man; a midnight coven surrounds a goat-headed sorcerer; a dog raises its head forlornly; and, most famous of all, a raggedy-bearded man with bulging eyes devours a human form that is already reduced to red meat. Of this last iconic image -- called ''Saturn,'' after the Titan who ate his children -- the art historian Fred Licht has written that it is as ''essential to our understanding of the human condition in modern times'' as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling is to our grasp of the 16th century.

So it made perfect sense that Scala Publishers, which specializes in art books and museum catalogs, would commission a book on Goya's Black Paintings. To write it, the editor, Antony White, signed up Juan José Junquera, a professor of art history at Complutense University in Madrid who is best known for his studies of 18th-century Spanish furnishings. A burly, gray-haired man, Junquera, 60, has made a career of tunneling through the labyrinthine Spanish archives. During the eight years that he researched his doctoral thesis, on the art of the court of Goya's royal patron, Charles IV, he spent five hours every weekday morning in the archives. ''It is amusing,'' he says. ''You can touch everyday life. Their way of eating, their way of dressing, their way of thinking -- their whole life is before your eyes.'' Having taken on the subject of Goya's Black Paintings, Junquera proceeded to scrutinize the documentary record. Before long, he realized that he had a problem.

The Black Paintings decorated the walls of the Quinta del Sordo, or ''House of the Deaf Man,'' which Goya purchased in February 1819. (Although Goya was deafened by a near-fatal malady that struck in 1792, the house already bore this name when he bought it.) On Sept. 17, 1823, not long before the collapse of a short-lived liberal regime and the return of the reactionary King Ferdinand VII, Goya signed over the farmhouse, which was built in the late 18th century, to his only grandchild, Mariano. The next year, perhaps for political reasons (the word ''perhaps'' is attached to almost every detail of Goya's biography), the elderly artist left for France, where he resided until his death in 1828 in Bordeaux. The Black Paintings were neither commissioned nor sold, and during Goya's lifetime, no visitor reported seeing them. As a result, it is impossible to date them precisely. They are usually thought to have been created between 1820 and 1823. For a historian with Junquera's propensities, such vagueness is highly unsatisfactory. Indeed, it is an incitement to plunge back into the archives.

Goya's purchase contract for the Quinta was not discovered until 1946, but since then it has been closely examined. So has the deed of transfer that Goya made to Mariano in 1823. When Junquera analyzed these documents and a description of the property at the time of Mariano's marriage in 1830, he reached a startling conclusion. In his reading, the bill of sale to Goya describes a residence of two low dwellings, only one-story high; the later account of Goya's renovations, which was made for Mariano's marriage settlement two years after the painter's death, does not mention the addition of another story. The Black Paintings were found on the Quinta's upper and ground floors. If the second story of the house was added after Goya's death, the researcher was forced to deduce that Goya did not paint the Black Paintings.

''I started to read what has been written about the Black Paintings,'' Junquera recalls in his small living room, crammed with books, bibelots and antique furniture, in the affluent Salamanca district of Madrid. ''I found that it was something impossible.'' There are just two published sightings of the paintings by contemporaries of Goya. The first is the so-called Brugada inventory, compiled by Goya's friend Antonio de Brugada, a liberal Spanish painter who for political reasons fled Spain for Bordeaux in 1823. In the inventory, which was putatively written in the 1820's but not published until 1928, Brugada listed and recognizably described 15 paintings -- one more than are now known -- in the downstairs dining room and the salon above it. The second contemporary record of the Black Paintings is a magazine article published in 1838 by Valentín Carderera, an artist and collector, who recounted that in Goya's country retreat ''there is hardly a wall that is not full of caricatures and works of fantasy, including the walls of the staircase.''

The Brugada inventory and the Carderera account -- that's it. Except for two cursory appraisals by art specialists retained in the 1850's when the house was placed on the market, there is not one further word in the literature about the Black Paintings until the French art scholar Charles Yriarte described them, with accompanying engraved reproductions, in a book about Goya that he published in Paris in 1867. The public did not get to see them until the Baron d'Erlanger purchased the house and retained a painter and restorer, Salvador Martínez Cubells, to remove them from the walls. The Black Paintings were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878 and then donated to the Prado.

Poring over the Brugada inventory, Junquera concluded that it was a late-19th-century concoction. ''The words are impossible at this moment in Spanish,'' he says. In particular, he found one clear ringer: the term vargueño, used to describe a writing desk in Goya's possession. As co-author of a large tome on Spanish furniture, Junquera has strong opinions about the subject. ''Do you want to know what Corominas says?'' he asks. He pulls from his crowded bookshelves a copy of the Short Etymological Dictionary of the Castilian Language, by Joan Corominas. Needless to say, it supports his claim. ''I asked people who are working in philological research at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas,'' he says excitedly. ''In the 1870's, vargueño began to be used. Before that, it was a papelera or escritorio.''

And the Carderera description of the Quinta, which states specifically that there was a staircase? Doesn't the presence of a staircase strongly suggest the existence of a second floor? ''This house was a very humble house,'' Junquera says. ''The staircase was only a very rustic one that went to the attic.'' The staircase in the two-story Quinta, as it appeared in the 1850's, was created either by Goya's son Javier or by Mariano. ''It is very well described in the inventory,'' Junquera says, referring to a later accounting of the house in 1854 at the time of Javier's death. ''It is of the kind we call an imperial staircase, with two flights. Carderera speaks of paintings in the staircase, but the notary documents describe only a big sculpture, a head of Goya, on the landing. That is all. No paintings.'' The wall paintings that Carderera described are not the Black Paintings, he says. They depicted ''very happy subjects -- paintings of local customs, of people Goya knew,'' and at some point they were destroyed. ''It was a very simple house,'' he says. ''A house only to go to have lunch, and afterward you go back to the city.'' Furthermore, if it was decorated with arresting images, why did none of Goya's associates mention them? ''Nobody spoke about that, not one of his friends,'' Junquera says. ''No one who was his friend in Bordeaux, nobody.'' His judgment: ''These are fake paintings.''

But what was Junquera to do? He had been commissioned to write a book about Goya's Black Paintings. ''If the upper floors do not exist in Goya's time, of course it is not by Goya,'' he says. Nonetheless, he wrote the book, ''The Black Paintings of Goya,'' which will be published later this summer. In it, he scatters out the evidence but refrains from concluding that the paintings are not Goya's. As a result of this deliberate lack of focus, most readers will undoubtedly overlook the author's iconoclastic view. Indeed, even his editor, Antony White, failed to spot it in the manuscript until Junquera alerted him to it. ''It wasn't enormously welcome as a discovery, but it was totally respected,'' White says dryly. And he responded to Junquera with a question of his own: ''If he didn't, who did?''

Junquera was prepared for that reaction. Once he became convinced that the work could not be by Goya, he ran down the roster of likely suspects before finally arriving at the name of the one painter who had full access to the Quinta and knowledge of the master's oeuvre and technique. All the markers pointed in one direction: Goya's son Javier. ''I think he did this for pleasure,'' Junquera says. But why were they then passed off as Goyas? Continuing down this trail of supposition to identify the person who stood to profit most from the subterfuge, Junquera zeroed in on the grandson -- Javier's only son, Mariano. A profligate who was chronically in need of funds, Mariano could fetch a higher price for the house if he passed off wall decorations, which he knew to be his father's, as originals by the great Goya.

Broadly speaking, art historians determine the attribution of a painting in two ways: historical documentation or physical examination. While any scholar will claim to employ both methods, that's a bit like professing to be completely ambidextrous. Through temperament, training or talent, each art historian tends to tilt toward the archive or the canvas. When Junquera, the consummate archivist, fingered Javier as the probable painter of the Black Paintings, he was following the lead of another, far more prominent, Goya specialist who had approached the shadowy Javier by the alternate route of connoisseurship. Examining other paintings supposedly by Goya, Juliet Wilson-Bareau, a London-based independent scholar who has been writing about the artist for more than 30 years, grew certain that many were not authentic. ''One cast around for other people who could have painted them,'' she explains. ''Initially, the only clues, if you like, for another person or painter substituting himself for Goya was Javier.''

Javier was suspect because he had both access and motive. Yet his artistic credentials are at best sketchy. No known work exists, only a paper trail of documents -- and a very short trail at that. In 1803, Goya donated the copperplates of his ''Los Caprichos'' etchings to the king in return for an annual allowance to permit Javier to travel abroad to further his artistic education. Two years later, Javier listed ''painter'' as his profession on his marriage certificate. There is no further mention of Javier's artistic career until Yriarte, in his book published 13 years after Javier's death, noted that a painting had been removed from the walls of the Quinta; the painting, he said, was thought to be by Javier, not by Goya. That work has never been identified. In recent years, as more information has surfaced about Goya's associates, another possibility has occurred to art historians. Perhaps Javier, who was an avid businessman -- ''If it was possible to sell his mother, he would have,'' Junquera remarks -- benefited from the trafficking of spurious Goyas without painting them.

Wilson-Bareau says that she has not studied the Black Paintings and is not prepared to comment on their authenticity. But in recent years, she has challenged the authorship of several prominent paintings attributed to Goya, including the ''Majas on a Balcony,'' in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ''The Colossus'' and ''The Milkmaid of Bordeaux,'' both owned by the Prado. Her arguments -- based on composition, brushwork, underpainting (as seen in X-rays) as well as documents -- are convincing, and the Metropolitan has downgraded its attribution of the ''Majas.'' While the Prado has not done likewise, its senior curator of 18th-century painting, Manuela Mena, seems to feel that Wilson-Bareau may be right. But Wilson-Bareau cautions that it is easier to disattribute than to reattribute. ''I never really said Javier painted them,'' she says. ''I said he might have.''

A scholar who relies primarily on a close examination of artworks bumps up against a serious obstacle in the Black Paintings. Everyone agrees that what we see today is at best a crude facsimile of what Goya painted. Nigel Glendinning, a professor emeritus at the University of London who has been writing about Goya for more than 40 years, did groundbreaking work on the probable arrangement of the paintings on the walls of the Quinta. Studying photographs by J. Laurent that are thought to date from the 1860's, he has also compared what we see now with what existed before Martínez Cubells, in the 1870's, hacked the pictures off the walls and attached them to canvas. ''It is not surprising that the restoration included extensive changes and a lot of repainting,'' Glendinning says. X-ray examination reveals very different images under some of the Black Paintings, adding to the uncertainty. ''There is all kind of scope in regard to the Black Paintings for rather reserved judgment,'' he remarks. ''But I believe Junquera is the first person to say in print they are not by Goya.''

Although he hasn't read the book, Glendinning responded vehemently to an article by Junquera in the April issue of Descubrir el Arte, a Madrid-based arts magazine. Junquera wrote the article to ''move things along,'' because he was convinced that White, after meeting with Prado officials in March, had decided to delay or stop publication of his book. Both the publisher, Scala, and the Prado deny it. ''There was no intention of not publishing the book,'' White says. Gabriele Finaldi, an associate director at the Prado, concurs: ''It's absurd. I didn't even suggest changing a comma.'' In the magazine, Junquera abandoned all discretion and flatly announced that Goya could not have created the Black Paintings.

''I'm totally unconvinced by it, because I've read all the documents he is using,'' Glendinning says. ''Inevitably, a lot of this is hypothetical, but his hypotheses don't in the least convince me. My view would be that the documents don't actually say whether the house had two stories or one.'' The philological evidence regarding the Brugada inventory also underwhelms him: ''History of the language isn't an exact science. What people do is find the earliest reference they can. People don't go looking for these technical terms used for furniture.'' While Glendinning agrees that the grand staircase in the Quinta was added after Goya's death, he emphasizes that Carderera reports seeing wall paintings and that the earlier staircase presumably led to a second story. The missing testimony of Goya's friends? They were mostly old men who died at about the same time he did. Junquera insists that Glendinning fails to understand the rustic nature of the Quinta and thinks that ''a country house in Spain is like a manor house in Surrey.'' He says, dismissively, ''Glendinning knows nothing about the decoration of the 18th century.''

In this tempest, with documents flying back and forth as thick as confetti, the paintings themselves are easily obscured. Before leaving Madrid, I visit the Black Paintings one more time at the Prado. Certain crudenesses that I had previously overlooked -- the clawlike hands and blotchy landscape of ''The Fates and Their Creation,'' for instance -- glare out at me now. Also obvious is the heavy blackness, so fashionable in the late 19th century. Surely it is the legacy of the restorer and has nothing to do with Goya. But the images, even Junquera admits, are ''something very strange for the 19th century, a kind of painting that has never been seen before.'' Could they really be the work of Javier? As Glendinning notes, ''There are no signed paintings by the son, and most of his life he described himself as a capitalist or landowner or farmer, not as a painter!''

Whenever the attribution of a famous work of art is questioned, its aura of authenticity flickers like a faulty light bulb. In a museum, we gaze reverently at the slightest doodle of an artist in the pantheon; we stride impatiently past the canvas of an unknown painter or, far worse, a work bearing the damning label ''School of ----------.'' In the case of the Black Paintings, this curatorial certification is compounded by a biographical mystique: the aged, deaf, misanthropic artist painted these unearthly images as his companions in a hermetic rural retreat. So, in addition to bearing a great-artist sticker, the Black Paintings come with a narrative of the most compelling sort. Like van Gogh's crow-haunted fields and Pollock's twisted skeins of paint, Goya's Black Paintings are popularly believed to be the outflow of a tormented great soul. A reattribution would strip away their pained sincerity along with their authenticity.

With a newly skeptical eye, I walk among the three galleries that hold the Black Paintings and find myself drawn less to the grotesque ''Saturn'' than to the disconsolate ''Dog,'' which gazes like a character in a Beckett play toward a vast emptiness to the right. ''The Dog,'' like several other Black Paintings, is a classic of modern art. ''There is not a single contemporary painter in the world that does not pray in front of 'The Dog,''' Manuela Mena observes. As I stand before it, I think of a story she recounted. The painter Joan Miró, in the last year of his life, paid a final visit to the Prado, and Mena was assigned to escort him through the museum. When she asked him what he would like to see, he said, ''I want to see 'The Dog' of Goya.'' He sat in front of it for half an hour. Then she asked if he wanted to look at anything else, and he had her take him to ''Las Meninas'' of Velázquez, which is perhaps the most revered painting in the world. ''For him, 'The Dog' and 'Las Meninas' were of the same level intensity,'' Mena said. She looked at me challengingly. ''We cannot send 'The Dog' to the museum basement because it was on the apparently nonexisting second floor of the Quinta.''

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 5, 2005 5:01 PM

Thanks so much, Ms Skattebol

Posted by: bob mcmanus on February 5, 2005 5:56 PM

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