Soon after being summoned to Madrid in early 1775, Francisco Goya (1746–1828) had painted nine cartoons of hunting scenes to be turned into tapestries to hang in the dining room of the Prince and Princess of Asturias, heir apparent to the Spanish throne, in El Escorial. Those he delivered in May and October, and the following year his position at court and salary were reviewed, with the technical assessment of Mengs. Although that was encouraging, Goya was retained at a lowly salary, and he remained dependent on supplementing that from the value of his works for the court.
In 1776, Goya was commissioned to paint another set of cartoons for tapestries, this time for the dining room of the Prince of Asturias. Although today these might appear unimportant, they were essential to keep the weavers of the Royal Tapestry Factory busy, and to furnish the accommodation of the heir to the throne. Goya seems to have had a fair degree of artistic licence in what he painted, although each cartoon was prefaced by a smaller oil sketch which had to be approved by one of the senior court painters, Mengs or Goya’s brother-in-law Bayeu.
Fight at the Cock Inn (1777) is one such sketch, for a cartoon which Goya delivered that year, which formed the centrepiece of the tapestries hanging in the dining room. It shows a violent brawl taking place outside the Meson del Gallo – the Cock Inn. This became a popular theme for other paintings, which were all based on a similar composition, with different names for the inn.
Among the first batch to be delivered was one of the most important.
The Picnic, which Goya delivered in October 1776, is the earliest painting of his to show the Maja and Majo, who were to feature in so many of his later works.
Around the time that Goya was in Madrid, some of the young and more fashion-conscious members of the lower classes took to travelling from cities like Madrid to sport themselves in the country, enjoying picnics in particular. They became known as Maja (female) and Majo (male), or sometimes as Manola and Manolo, from their names. Staunchly Spanish, they held in contempt those members of the upper classes who dressed in French fashions, viewing them as being Frenchified. Their dress was frequently colourful, and exaggeratedly Spanish to the point where some appeared caricatures.
This group have made their way from Madrid to picnic in the country in their fashionable dress.
Goya became fascinated by the Majas and Majos, and their distinctive behaviour. We must assume from this series of cartoons that members of the royal family shared his fascination.
During the nineteenth century, the Majas and Majos gradually evolved into the flamenco dancers and bullfighters who became the foreigner’s view of typical Spanish people.
A Walk in Andalusia, delivered in August 1777, follows the Maja and Majo even further afield. Their dress is even clearer here, some of the men wearing distinctive black stovepipe hats. The young woman in the centre wears flowers in her hair, and has other features typical of the ‘flamenco dancer’ to come.
The Parasol, also delivered in August 1777, shows a young couple in greater detail. She holds a fan, and has a lapdog. Her eyes are large and dark, and her face lit unusually thanks to the parasol.
They were fond of novelty pursuits too, here flying The Kite (January 1778) on a hill just outside the city, above the River Manzanares.
Goya painted some cartoons looking at the occupations of childhood. This shows two Boys Inflating a Balloon, and was delivered in January 1778.
That year, Goya delivered a series for tapestries in the ante-chamber, some of which involve larger and more elaborate groups, and an early social realism. The Blind Guitarist, delivered in April 1778, shows a musician at the left, with a small group of Majas and Majos gathered to listen to him sing.
It’s not known where the tapestry made from this later version of The Picnic, from about 1776-78, was hung. This group has apparently been over-drinking, and one Maja at the left is bent over and appears to be vomiting as a result. This is increasingly Hogarthian.
The Crockery Vendor, delivered in January 1779, shows in the foreground a market salesman with his stock of crockery, trying to convince a young Maja to part with her money. The tapestry made from this was intended for the bedchamber of the Prince of Asturias.
In these series of paintings, Goya started to develop themes which were to appear in his later genre works, as well as building his reputation at court.
Janis A Tomlinson (2020) Goya, A Portrait of the Artist, Princeton UP. ISBN 978 0 691 19204 8.
Pierre Gassier and Juliet Wilson (1981) The Life and Complete Work of Francisco Goya, 2nd English edition, Harrison House. ISBN 0 517 353903.