Goya’s gruesome art still relevant after 200 years
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 23:09
Students and community members alike were still steadily filling into 116 Gore Hall at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday as Janis Tomlinson, director of University Museums, took to the podium to begin her lecture on Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. The 74 seats in the room were already occupied. More chairs were brought in from neighboring rooms, but 11 guests remained standing for the duration of “Capricho to Fatal Consequences: Goya’s Imagery of War.”
Tomlinson said she was gratified to see that many people came to her lecture, but she was even more pleased that so many people came to the gallery afterward to see the prints. She said she hopes many students come to see the prints as well.
Tomlinson said she has wanted to bring Goya’s works to the university since she started working as the director of museums in 2003. After an arrangement to loan a set of Goya’s prints from a foundation fell through, Tomlinson said she was unsure if she would be able to have an exhibit of Goya’s works. Then, the director of the Pomona College Museum of Art visited the university, reviewed the museum and began speaking with Tomlinson, she said. Pomona College owns all four sets of Goya’s etchings, and in 2008 discussions regarding a collaboration between colleges began, Tomlinson said.
In the collaboration, Tomlinson provides scholarly expertise and Pomona College provides the Goya prints. The university is the first of four venues where the exhibition will be shown, ending at Pomona College. Goya’s works are on display in Old College Gallery today through Dec. 8.
Goya’s works are very graphic and depict themes of war and human cruelty such as executions, castrations and attacks on military encampments. Tomlinson said people come to her and say the paintings are very hard to look at because so much cruelty and tragedy is shown. The prints were created 200 years ago, yet, she said, they are unfortunately still incredibly relevant to today’s world. Goya created the first images of war as experienced by individuals and women, she said.
“I think I really want people to appreciate just the genius of this artist who was living through this war and chose, rather than to be overwhelmed with it, used it sort of as a point of departure for this immensely creative activity,” Tomlinson said.
Graduate art history student Sarah Leonard said she enjoyed Tomlinson’s lecture and found the topic really interesting, despite her dislike for Goya’s art.
“It helped me because I’m actually not a big Goya fan,” Leonard said. “I don’t like looking at these pieces of art. I find they turn my stomach, but hearing her talk about it really helped me process them as art and helped me kind of come to terms with them and be able to look at them and understand what’s going on.”
Graduate art history student Ashley Rye said she liked Tomlinson’s lecture because Tomlinson was aware of her mixed audience and addressed it well while showing how much she cares about Goya.
“I think her balancing of scholarly work [...] but also presenting to a general audience in a way that isn’t talking down to people but also made very clear how interested she is and how passionate she is about the subject matter—I think this sort of engaging talk was really a high point,” Rye said.
Tomlinson originally focused on a topic in medieval Spanish art before changing her focus to Goya during her graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She said she realized Goya wasn’t well studied, and there was a lot of research to be done. Goya created more than 2,000 works of art in many forms including portraits, frescoes and etchings, Tomlinson said.
The high point of her career thus far was when the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. invited Tomlinson to be the American curator for a Goya exhibition that was planned in partnership with the Prado Museum in Madrid, Tomlinson said. She said she thinks the most fascinating part of that experience was when Goya’s “Clothed Maja” and “Naked Maja” arrived in Washington.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be the curator for an exhibition that brought those paintings from Madrid to Washington and allowed an American audience that wouldn’t necessarily travel to see them,” Tomlinson said.
Spanish art has only recently become more widely studied, Tomlinson said, and Spain has been neglected from the canon of art due to Italian and French dominance. It is difficult to define a Spanish tradition of art history, and it is a hard area to teach, she said. Yet, Tomlinson has seen great strides made in the study of Spanish art in the past 30 years because the Prado Museum has become a research and study center for Spanish art.
As the Prado continues to do major exhibitions and as interest grows in the United States and at the university, Tomlinson said she thinks there will be opportunities for Goya’s art to become better known.
“I think they are historically important, and I think they are incredibly relevant to our world, so they can be appreciated on a variety of different levels,” Tomlinson said.