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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Francisco Goya

 Whimsy with Bite
[WritersClearinghouse News Service] Posted 16 September 2014
Tony Auth's recent death got me thinking about an exhibit of cartoons by Goya I visited about a fortnight ago at the Allentown Art Museum.
Auth, a former editorial cartoonist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Francisco Goya, Spain's great 19th century court painter, in the same breath?
Yes, because Goya (1764-1828), though often best known for such full-figure portraits such as the Duchess of Alba and the Nude Maja and Clothed Maja, was also an early social realist and Spain's first, yes, first, modern painter. It's hard not to to think of the horror of war depicted in Picasso's Guernica when viewing Goya's equally horrific scene of bloodshed in his Third of May, 1808. Goya's spirit imbued a new form of political and societal criticism that flowed in subsequent centuries from the sharpened quills of such penny-press English sharpshooters as William Hogarth,  George Cruikshank, James Gilray, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, and Steve Bell.

New Americans, like the British, also loved to smear their political nomenclature, starting with the run-up to the Revolution. But later-day American editorialists, unlike their British counterparts, started to go limp sometime after World War II during the Cold War flabby fifties. Like American journalism itself, these cartoonists started playing it safe.
A small band didn't. Auth was among them.
What specifically informed my Auth-Goya moment was a rare exhibit of Goya etchings -- his fierce commentaries on 19th century Spanish mores -- that were at the Allentown museum until earlier this month. (No worries. The full-set of etchings will be on display again early next year Pennsylvania State University. Full details follow).
The etchings are each about the size a small magazine page. In all, there eighty-four. Goya titled them Caprichos, or Caprices. About half comment on what appear to be supernatural subjects; the others, real life.
The works, according to the Allentown museum, denounce superstitions and social abuses. According to Kenneth Clark, they were a 'savage attack on society and the Church.' 
They are also rare. Goya printed 300 sets, with only twenty-seven full-sets surviving. First edition pulls and the original copper plates survive at the Prado in Madrid. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has about half of the set. They're not on display. 

The Allentown set was was one four firsts, printed in 1799, bought by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, and now owned by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, a private Los-Angeles-based company that supplies and packages exhibits of significant artworks to museums around the country.

The Landau set will be in Pennsylvania again, from 3 February to 10 May, at the Palmer Museum of Art in University Park.

Tony Auth died  at 72 on 14 September. May he rest in peace. His readers were never so lucky.