Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes is one of the most famous Spanish artists. His prolific range of work in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century earned his sobriquet the last of the old masters. He lived from 1746 to 1828, and his art contributed to social history and art movements that followed him in significant ways.

Life of an Artist: Francisco Goya - Sheet1
Self portrait by Goya, 1826_©

His life | Francisco Goya

He started learning art at the age of fourteen. His first job as an artist in 1774 was to paint a series of ornamental drawings known as the Tapestry Cartoons for the Spanish palaces. Goya painted sixty-three cartoons depicting the leisure activities of the elite in a colourful, vibrant Rococo style. Goya worked at the Spanish Royal court through the rule of four monarchs. In the late 1700s, he was the most popular Portraitist for the royals and nobles.

He fell ill for an extended period in 1792. His illness left him completely deaf. His paintings took on a darker tone after that, even though he continued in his position as the first court painter and completed a family portrait of Charles IV. Goya continued painting for the royals through the political turmoil of the Peninsular Wars and Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and subsequent withdrawal. However, his paintings’ playfulness was replaced by melancholy and disenchantment.

Goya’s paintings in the 1800s mark the beginning of Modern Art. He retreated to his house, Quinta del Sordo, where he painted the oil-on-plaster series of murals known as the Black Paintings. These reflect his troubled thoughts and fears. He left Spain in 1824 and spent his final years in Bordeaux, France. Here he painted his last set of paintings, La Tauromaquia.

Paintings and philosophy

Goya was reserved and guarded about his personal life and thoughts. We get a glimpse into his world through the tone of his paintings and engravings. Fortunately, he has left behind a vast and diverse body of work comprising his paintings and prints. He starts as a keen observer in his early paintings. His Tapestry Cartoons are optimistic, playful, and luxuriant.

Life of an Artist: Francisco Goya - Sheet2
Blind man’s buff_©

His portraits of noble families in the 1780s exemplify his skill at capturing the likeness and mood of his subjects. His masterly painting techniques are evident from the details in his portraits, the glitter of ornaments, the texture of garments, and the subtle emotions behind the formal countenance. He had an intuitive skill of using symbolism to capture emotions, the innocence of youth, and the resignation of experience.

Life of an Artist: Francisco Goya - Sheet3
Portrait of Dona Isabel del Porcel_©

His work became more layered and intriguing over the years. They offer a commentary on how Goya saw the world as murkier, troubled, and devoid of hope and ideals. After losing his hearing, he painted the Caprichos, a series of eighty etchings with nightmarish symbols such as witches, ghosts, and fantasy creatures. A notable example from this series is, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.

Life of an Artist: Francisco Goya - Sheet4
The Sleep of Reason produces monsters, 1799_©

His work reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters. 

Contribution to art

Goya’s art plays a significant role in telling the story of the 19th century. His portraits depict the history, traditions, and Spanish society in detail.

Goya claimed that his work was quite simple. He just portrayed his idealism and truth. Goya lived during the period of the ancien regime in Spain. During this period, neighbouring France witnessed the overthrow of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He saw the effects of the rise of Napoleon and the expansionist wars. During this period, the Enlightenment was also taking root in Europe. Throughout this period, Goya painted fervently, capturing the lives of everyone around him. His paintings capture the different social classes, the relationships between them, and the realities of his time. The subject matter of his etchings ranges from dreamy to gruesome, imaginary to harshly realistic, and humorous to severely critical, a testament to how he perceived the world around him.

Two of Goya’s most famous paintings, The Second of May and The Third of May, depict the Spanish overthrow of the French invaders in 1808. The Second of May captures the brutality at Puerta del Sol, Madrid. The Moorish soldiers of the French Army are shown on horseback attacking citizens while the citizens rise in passionate defence. The Third of May captures the day after the attack. It depicts a motley group of desperate citizens facing an emotionless firing squad. It uses light, colours, and shadows to highlight the maelstrom of realities that are the aftermath of war.

Goya’s series of eighty-five prints titled The Disasters of War in 1810-1820 continues the theme of atrocities and their effect on the victims during the period of the Peninsular Wars and the Spanish liberation. Goya retreated to his home, known as the House of the Deaf Man, and created the set of 14 Black Paintings in 1819-1823. These were painted with Oil directly on the plaster walls and were not for public display. They reflect his disillusionment, despair, and fear for humanity.

Recognition after death | Francisco Goya

The themes of Goya’s paintings are universal. They begin with a celebration of life and move on to capture universal emotions and sufferings. There is also a unique Spanish element to his work as he stayed rooted in his heritage, documenting for posterity life as he saw it.

His painting techniques inspired a generation of Impressionist artists. His portrayal of emotions, fears, and dreams continued to inspire Romanticism. He has inspired paintings of courtly and leisurely life and those capturing the brutalities of his times, with the conviction of a war photographer taking his stories for the entire world to know and reflect on.

Goya’s use of broad, visible brushstrokes paved the way for the spontaneous style of Impressionists, as did the quintessentially Spanish subject matter of his art. The influence of his war depictions is visible in Pablo Picasso’s work. We can see how the effect of light on the massacred victims in Goya’s Third of May inspired the use of light in Picasso’s Guernica.

The surrealism of the Caprichos series extends its influence in the works of Salvador Dali. His influence is evident in the works of artists from future generations, such as Manet, Luis Buñuel, and Beckmann. 

His work continues to inspire current generations with the expanse of his broad brushstrokes, the minute details in his huge canvases, the light which captured fleeting emotions, and the social commentary embedded in depictions of brutal warfare.


  1. Czere, A., n.d. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – Francisco de Goya y Lucientes – Google Arts & Culture. [online] Google Arts & Culture. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 September 2022]. 
  2. Prodger, M., 2015. From princes to paupers: how Goya’s portraits tell the story of Spain. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 September 2022].
  3. n.d. Francisco Goya. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 September 2022].

Nikita is a final year student of interior architecture at Cept University. She’s passionate about sustainable materials and their use in making spaces that are sensitive to the user as well as the planet. Along with her design studies, she also enjoys writing about architecture, culture and vernacular building traditions.