‘I Saw It: Francisco de Goya, Printmaker’ at Pasadena’s Norton Simon
via Simon Norton

PASADENA, Calif. — Art lovers, and lovers of humanity and justice, are heading to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through August 5, for an immersive experience, an in-depth encounter with Spanish artist Francisco de Goya’s complete four-series body of prints. Owing to the fragility of paper and the debilitating effect of bright light, these prints are seldom placed on public view.

Viewers will marvel both at Goya’s superb technical skills, as well as his intense, pointed affirmation of life, full of humor, war, despair, irony, satire, all that defines the human condition.

Considering the ferociousness of his attack on the Church, the nobility and the ruling class, it’s a wonder he wasn’t hauled before the Inquisition or lined up before a firing squad. Perhaps what saved him was his widespread renown as the commissioned painter of noble and upper-class portraits in oil. He died in 1828, at age 82, in exile in France.

Las chinchillas | Eric A. Gordon/People’s World

The exhibition is titled “I Saw It” because on two separate prints, depicting cruelty and depravity that a viewer might not believe could happen, Goya actually wrote those words (yo lo vi) into the image itself. The four series collectively represent a personal eye-witness to the artist’s time and place. The 80 prints of the Caprichos series (1799) explore Spanish humor, old social customs, morality and vice, superstitions and the dream states that often give rise to the artist’s ideas, caricaturing the human propensity toward irrationality. Desastres de la Guerra (c. 1810–15) records scenes from the Napoleonic invasion and occupation of Spain. Goya remained in Madrid the entire time, and apparently maintained cordial relations both with the French occupiers and with the Spanish royal house. He concentrates his eye on the abuses and horrors of war, and the gruesome irony of the French trying to militarily install an Enlightenment régime in a land with a repressive monarchy. Even the casual student of art history will find in these prints a ready source for much of the art produced during the Spanish Civil War more than a century later. And here’s one fun fact: In “Las chinchillas” can be found the inspiration for Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein modeling.

La Tauromaquia (1815–16) is an exploration of all the facets of Spanish bullfighting, starting with the Moorish technique of hunting and capturing wild bulls, depicting all the individual roles played by bullfighting teams, and not sparing the viewer those occasions when the bull carried the day. Los Disparates (c. 1815–23) offers a peek into the artist’s creative process, imagination, fears, dreams and fantasies.

From ‘Los Disparates’ | Eric A. Gordon/People’s World

One feature of the current exhibition is the inclusion of multiple versions of the same print. Viewers can see how Goya produced trial and working proofs alongside his finished work, and later hand-colored editions are included as well. This is the first comprehensive installation of Goya’s iconic suites on the West Coast, and it is drawn exclusively from the renowned collection of this material in the Norton Simon Museum.

Picasso, ‘The Dream and Lie of Franco,’ 1937 | Eric A. Gordon/People’s World

The museum supplies ample didactic panels to identify each print and translate its title. Unlike many other museums in Southern California, however, the texts are not provided in Spanish, which, given both the subject of the exhibition and a significant part of the intended audience to come see it, would have been helpful.

In a small, related exhibition, the museum has gather several modern works by artists such as Leon Golub, Pablo Picasso, Enrique Chagoya, and Andy Warhol, who similarly felt compelled to address injustice and suffering in their art.

The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91105. Hours are Sun., Mon., and Thurs. from 12 to 5 p.m., Fri. and Sat. from 12 to 7 p.m., closed Tues. and Weds. For further information call (626) 449-6840 or visit the museum website. For any who wish to do virtual, but partial tours of the Goya exhibition, the website features links to them.

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Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.