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Francisco Goya: A Life

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Overview

From the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of Son of the Morning Star and Deus Lo Volt! , a biography that breaks the mold?recounting with stunning immediacy the dark genius behind the renowned Spanish painter.

Goya's protean talent sends connoisseurs barking in various directions. He was a master whose image of Saturn bloodily devouring his son is as unforgettable as his peerless rendering of the gentle light caught in the white satin gown of a countess. Most critics ...

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Overview

From the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of Son of the Morning Star and Deus Lo Volt! , a biography that breaks the mold—recounting with stunning immediacy the dark genius behind the renowned Spanish painter.

Goya's protean talent sends connoisseurs barking in various directions. He was a master whose image of Saturn bloodily devouring his son is as unforgettable as his peerless rendering of the gentle light caught in the white satin gown of a countess. Most critics agree that Goya changed Western art forever, although the nature of his influence has been widely interpreted. Degas, for one, lamented that because of Goya he was condemned to painting a housewife in her bathtub.

This enigmatic artist is a brilliant choice of subject for Evan S. Connell, whose literary histories and penetrating novels have placed him amongst our greatest writers. With his famous wit, erudition and prodigious research, this biography brings to life an artist whose imagination is unsurpassed, and his brutal times—Spain in the clutches of the Inquisition. In a colloquial, wry style, Connell introduces a wealth of detail and a comic cast of weird and eccentric characters—dukes, duchesses, royalty, politicians and artists; as lewd and incorrigible a group as history has ever produced. As he charts the arc of Goya's career, he keeps pace with the tumultuous times as well as shrewdly sifting through two centuries of commentary, from Claudel's shock and dismay that he sought to avoid the eyes and the image of God, to Baudelaire's deadly accurate comment that "he painted the black magic of our civilization."

Connell has conjured Goya, his art, and his times with fierce originality and imagination. This is an unforgettable biography from an American master.

Author Biography: Evan S. Connell—long recognized as one of the most important literary voices of our time—is author of eighteen books, including Deus Lo Volt!, Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge, and Son of the Morning Star. He has received numerous awards including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This rousing history of Goya's life and times opens with a devastating anecdote about his most notorious model. Evidently the 13th duchess of Alba, "by every account a mankiller," once picked up a poor seminarian while cruising incognito and forced him to dine her so lavishly that he had to forfeit his trousers when the bill came. Connell (Mrs. Bridge, etc.) takes the painter's career as a vantage point from which to portray Spain at the end of the 18th century. As the ambitious young artist from Saragossa was attempting to climb the ladder of imperial favor, the House of Bourbon was in decline, its empire dominated by a despotic Inquisition and a terrible heedlessness of what was happening on the other side of the Pyrenees. By the time the French invaded, Goya's hard-won status was unassailable, even by his own brutal honesty, and remained so through the ensuing upheavals, his work growing more satirical and embittered with each change of regime. One of the chief puzzles about Goya is how he managed to retain the favor of his patrons while making them look awful and, conversely, how he correlated his political conscience with his persistent ambition. Instead of answering these questions, Connell explores the rich perversities of the whole epoch, thus rendering the painter's peculiarities more authoritative than mysterious. The loosely structured narrative includes canny, sometimes hilarious character sketches, wry reportage of contemporary horrors and opinionated engagements with his many sources, including such entertaining figures as Casanova and Lady Elizabeth Holland. On the paintings, he makes only occasional, though pointed, commentary. This is, in short, an old-fashioned, belle-lettristic biography, full of erudition, unobtrusive scholarship and personality, whether its subject's or its author's being really beside the point; readers of Robert Hughes's recent Goya will want Connell's cultural reportage as counterpoint. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Two masters of historical-literary prose have seized on the life and art of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya for their latest works. For Hughes, a life of Goya is the culmination of a writing lifetime as an art critic and historian (The Shock of the New; Barcelona; The Fatal Shore). This is his first extended work since a near-fatal car crash in 1999 (see "Must-Reads for Fall," LJ 9/1/03, p. 41). The subject of Goya allows Hughes to employ his gifts for social portraiture (especially in his vivid picture of the Spanish court) as well as relishing the great works themselves, whose continued power he does not assume but articulates in context. Anytime Goya is off the biographical stage, Hughes has some fascinating bit of social observation to explore (such as the effect of a 1766 royal ban on long capes and wide sombreros, whose enforcers wielded "scissors of sartorial doom," or the figurative meanings of Goya's women tossing a stuffed pellele manikin). Out of such wonderful background Hughes finesses but does not fake his way across the acknowledged gaps in Goya's historical record. By the book's end, when Goya dies deaf and exiled in France, Hughes summons a genuine feeling of loss from the reader. Unlike Hughes, for whom a Goya biography represents a career progression, Connell comes to the Spaniard's life by the zigzagging route of wonderful period novels (Mrs. Bridge; Mr. Bridge) among many other books. However, the writer who so memorably re-created Custer's fatal battlefield in the nonfiction Son of the Morning Star never finds his way comfortably into Goya's world of Bourbon Spain. Too often, Connell mocks the silly or antiquated theories of previous Goya scholars and leaves the narrative there. To compare the Hughes and Connell books directly-on the subject of Spanish majo culture, for instance, or on the artist's patchy early years or derivation of his famous Caprichos series-is to weigh a formidable, exultant work of biography against a comparatively unpassionate extended essay. Chattily composed (lacking details about Goya's wife of 39 years, Josefa, Connell explains that his own family's housekeeper had been a "placid, expressionless, overweight farm girl" named Josefa), Connell's stylish work is neither revisionist nor particularly heroic but simply goes on in its clipped, sometimes winking prose until the Old Master's breath runs out, with an epilog about Goya's pilfered skull. The result is a skimpy introduction for those already in love with the artist's work; libraries would do much better with the Hughes, which is highly recommended.-Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From literary nonfiction author and novelist Connell (Deus Lo Volt!, 2000, etc.), an idiosyncratic consideration of the groundbreaking Spanish artist. Perhaps it is the violent lunacy of the world since 9/11, but Goya (1746-1828), creator of the Disasters of War etchings and of paintings depicting the brutal Napoleonic occupation of Spain, appears to be an artist for our time. Connell, who has addressed the hell at which we arrive by taking that road paved with good intentions in such nonfiction as Son of the Morning Star (1984), is the latest in a string of storytellers to tackle the Spanish master, following by mere months the publication of art critic Robert Hughes's more conventional Goya (p. 1164). The author captures the contradictions and dangers inherent in being a member of the establishment during periods of serial oppression and liberation, with fanatical religion tossed into the mix. Though Connell always writes from a personal point of view, his prose here is oddly detached, considering the colorful subject matter. Frequent digressions sometimes lead to a fascinating tale of great-though not obvious- relevance; a whole chapter about Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War (and long after Goya's death), recalling anti-Franco guerillas, fear of exposure, and torturous death, forcibly calls to mind both pre- and post-liberation Iraq, reminding us that Goya captured the grim, eternal ugliness of war. As an art historian, however, Connell leaves something to be desired. His constant speculation on the meaning of Goya's work, and his basic incomprehension of pre-modern artistic conventions, might cause a specialist to gloss over parts of this. The absence of illustrations is likewisefrustrating, given the viscerally pictorial nature of Goya's art. Well-crafted musings on living in violent and troubled times, using one of the greatest artists of that genre as a lens. Agent: Don Congdon
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582433080
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 3/14/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 969,755
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.67 (d)

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