Eighty etchings by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746–1828) currently on view in the Theater Gallery depict, as the artist described them, “fatal consequences of the bloody war in Spain with Bonaparte, and other emphatic caprices.” Known today as The Disasters of War, the series, created between 1810 and 1820, comprises images of war and famine as well as allegorical scenes that refer to the period after the war, when the conservative King Ferdinand VII was reinstated to the Spanish throne. The scenes were inspired by current events the artist witnessed or read about in newspaper accounts; Goya etched them onto copper plates that were printed thirty-five years after his death.
Plate 7, which Goya titled Que Valor! (What courage!), portrays the courageous twenty-two-year-old Agustina of Aragon, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Joan of Arc. In the summer of 1808, when Napoleon’s armies were bayonetting their way through the city of Zaragosa en route to Portugal, Agustina arrived on the battlefield with a basket of apples to refresh the Spanish guerillas trying to protect their city. When she reached the ramparts she found only fallen soldiers. Climbing over them, she grabbed a match from one to light the fuse of a cannon, firing it single-handedly at oncoming French troops. She held her position, manning the cannon, until her bravery inspired fleeing Spanish troops to return to the battle. On that day the French gave up the fight, but they returned just a few weeks later to take the city house by house.
A number of prints related to the years of famine in Madrid (1811–12), such as plate 60, No hay quien los socorra (There is no one to help them), express a sense of abandonment. Starving Spanish citizens were left to die, ignored not only by the French but by the more affluent members of their own society. Plate 69, Nada. Ello dirá (Nothing. The event will tell), shows a skeleton rising from a grave to write the word Nada (Nothing) on a sheet of paper, perhaps expressing what the years of war, famine, and suffering had brought the Spanish people.
The Disasters of War portfolio is being shown in its entirety for the first time in the Berkeley Art Museum’s history. It is one of four series of prints by Francisco Goya in the BAM collection; the others are Los Caprichos (1792–99); Tauromaquia (1816); and Los Proverbios (1815–24). Inspired by great artists such as Rembrandt and Velázquez, Goya employed techniques of engraving, etching, and aquatint to create complex compositions that include multiple figures portrayed in a wide range of costumes, poses, actions, and expressions. Thus he advanced the art of printmaking as well as the art of social commentary, in turn inspiring later artists like Enrique Chagoya, whose work is on view in Galleries 2 and 3.