Goya: The Portraits at The National Gallery

Goya is undoubtedly one of Spain’s most compelling artistic characters. The National Gallery’s exhibition of his portraiture is a striking display. Having visited Jean-Etienne Liotard’s exhibition the same week, it was incredible to see how these two painters approached portraiture and turned convention on its head. Goya is of course known for his nightmarish scenes from his ‘Disasters of War’ and ‘Black Paintings’ series so it was spectacular to see an altogether alternative exhibition of Goya’s work.

His portrait patrons grew rapidly after a portrait commission from Spain’s prime minister Count Floridablanca, and he began painting portraits of Spanish figures from royalty to intellectual to military figures.

The impact of Goya’s portraits lay in his ability to manifest his sitter’s psychology. There is a beautiful and poignant realism in his work, there is no attempt to prettify, Goya painted what he saw. There is an informality to his work which we like, very disparate to the pompous portraits of the earlier 17th Century.

We were also struck by his sensitive and hazy touch in many of the paintings, such as this self portrait below. There are almost impressionistic touches, particular in his background which balances beautifully with his stronger stance.