That goes to show how familiar Goya is to people in Japan, but all you can see at this museum are his oil paintings on canvas1. In general, the public doesn’t have access to his prints that use paper as a supporting medium2 and his sketches (referred to as “drawings”). This is done because light exposure will heavily degrade the paper and ink, and we want to preserve them for as long as possible.
The drawings were not themselves meant to be works of art—they’re more like doodles in the sense that they were preliminary pieces used for practice, copying, making notes, rough sketches for future works. For this reason, they have a highly private quality and would not have normally been shown to anyone in the first place. And unlike prints, only one of each exists in the world. In that sense, they are truly treasures.
This is probably the first and last time that three hundred or so of these priceless sketches will be displayed at once in an exhibition like this. It’s thought that more than a thousand Goya sketches have been identified, half of which (about five hundred) are in the Museo del Prado collection. The other half are at other museums or private collections. This exhibition was also done in collaboration with several other organizations, including the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Brochure on the Goya drawings exhibit
Cabeza de ángel (head of an angel), a portion of sketch for a fresco at the Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza. Museo del Prado collection.
Goya had a life full of dramatic ups and downs. Originally from a cold village in the Aragon region of northeastern Spain, he started as a fresh-faced arrival in the big city who struggled to work his way up to become a purveying painter to the king, and ultimately ended his life in exile. In the process, he left countless works that include tapestry sketches, still lifes, religious pictures, historical pictures, copperplate etchings, portraits of nobility and aristocrats, and more.
Once you are familiar with the drawings that served as early versions of his works, seeing the finished pieces takes on a whole new level of meaning. Goya’s sketches are also a way to gain insight into his ever-changing inner world. It’s as if the drawings, from the sketchbooks he made while he was a young student studying in Italy to the ones he kept in his last years in exile in Bordeaux, provide a summary of the trajectory of his entire life.
Self-portrait at around 50 years old. New York Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.
The subtitle of the exhibition in Spanish is solo la voluntad me sobra, or “only my strength of will remains”3. The phrase comes from his final words in a letter he wrote to a friend in Paris during his exile in Bordeaux when he was nearly 80 years old. “Be thankful for the poor writing for I have neither good sight nor a steady hand, and neither pen nor inkwell, I lack everything and only my strength of will remains.”
The last piece in the exhibition is a sketch called Aun aprendo (I am still learning) that Goya drew in Bordeaux. It shows a wizened, white-haired man in the last years of his life, holding up his broken body with canes. His determination to keep pushing himself forward reveals Goya’s spirit. It’s not unlike the words of the great Italian master Michelangelo when he was 87: Ancora imparto “Yet, I am learning!” These are a tough, determined group of working seniors.
Aun aprendo (I am still learning). This was created from the sketch of the fresco mentioned above 56 years later. Museo del Prado collection.
Finally, on a more prosaic note, a sketch from this exhibit called “The Butterfly Bull” is one that the Museo del Prado (the Spanish Ministry of Culture) purchased at a London auction for 1.9 million euros, which is equivalent to about 230 million yen at the current exchange rate. Despite the fact that Goya was living out his last years in Bordeaux at the time, he was challenging himself to produce lithographs using cutting-edge techniques—a testament to the fact that he was an avid learner his whole life long.
El Toro Mariposa, Fiesta en el ayre. Buelan buelan (The butterfly bull, Fiesta in the air, They fly, they fly.) Museo del Prado collection
1 The Black Paintings are a series of works that earned Goya the reputation for being the father of modern painting. They were originally painted directly on the walls of his home, but transferred to canvas years later. They are now part of the permanent collection at the Museo del Prado.
2 Several museums, even in Japan, have Goya’s signature four-part copperplate etchings in their collections. There are so many opportunities to see them that they’ve been featured on regular TV programs appraising masterworks.
3 In addition to “willpower” or “determination”, the word voluntad also carries the meaning of a will and final testament, so this phrase might also be interpreted to indicate Goya’s resolve to continue living—in the sense that “there are many things I lack, but at least I still don’t need a will”.
Goya. Drawings Only my strength of will remains
Where: Museo Del Prado, Madrid
When: November 20, 2019 through February 16, 2020
Official English website: