Mirth, c. 1819 - 23 by Francisco Goya

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

Any Goya exhibition is cause for major excitement, and this one, which for the first time since his death brings together all the ink drawings from one of the albums he made towards the end of his life, is especially ground-breaking. In 1793 Goya, by then Spain’s foremost artist, suffered a near fatal illness which left him profoundly deaf. He was 47 years old and it was while recovering that he began to paint small pictures in private albums – each one an exercise in ‘fantasy and invention’, and a way of expressing ideas and thoughts. His subject matter was unruly behaviour, disorder, dreams, superstitions, nightmares, old age and witches (he was interested in the grip that witchcraft had on popular imagination): all things, in other words that you long to see depicted by one of the greatest artists the world has ever produced. Nor do the pictures, seen up close, disappoint.

The albums – there were eight in all – contained about 550 drawings and were a huge part of Goya’s creative output, but they were broken up and the pages sold separately when he died. So it is a big event to be able to see all 22 drawings from The Witches and Old Women Album, begun when Goya was 73 years old, but still at the height of his powers. These drawings, painted directly with a brush and black ink onto white paper (Goya used no underdrawing at all), are astounding both in form and content. As the title of the album and show suggests, many are depictions of witches and old women, but there are also images exploring sleep, nightmares, lunacy, and marriage. The drawings, with their spare but hugely expressive black brushstrokes, are by turns macabre, horrifying, funny, satirical and touching, but each and every one reveals Goya’s astonishingly ironical, humorous and humane vision. It’s a memorable exhibition. Don’t miss it.

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album
Until 25 May 2015. Gallery open: daily 10am - 6pm (last admission 5.30pm)
The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 0RN
£8.50. Concessions: £7.50
020 7848 2526
— Daisy
25th February 2015