In 1824, having put his affairs in order, Francisco Goya (1746–1828) left Spain to take the waters at Plombières-les-Bains in France. From there he travelled via a short stay in Bordeaux to Paris.
There were many Spanish émigrés sheltering in Paris at the time, and Goya seems to have met plenty of them. Despite his age, he was seventy-eight by then, his deafness, and his almost complete lack of French, he seems to have had a busy social life. He arrived on 30 June, and just as the Salon opened on 25 August, he was preparing to return to spend the winter with friends in Bordeaux, where he was joined by Leocadia Weiss and her two children. Her husband remained in Madrid, where he was beset by creditors, and in dire straits.
During the winter of 1824-25, Goya painted some of the most remarkable works of his career, using watercolour on a prepared support of ivory. He first applied a binder, either egg white or gum arabic, then blackened the thin sliver of ivory with carbon, possibly mixed with a little egg yolk. He next allowed a drop of water to fall on it, which lifted off part of the black ground, leaving chance highlights, which he used as the basis for his painting.
In terms of technique, these owe more to his printmaking than his painting, and are fascinating experiments which he appears to have devised himself. Goya reported that he had made about forty of these, of which only ten are known today, and a further twelve are only known from reproductions or records.
Maja and Celestina combines one of his young Majas with an old woman who is thought to have represented the legendary procuress known as Celestina.
Seated Woman and Man in Spanish Cloak, Majo and Maja is another reference to his much earlier paintings.
Two Children Looking at a Book.
Today, a Man Looking for Fleas in His Shirt may seem strange, but such parasites were an everyday hazard at the time, particularly for those who travelled.
The faces of this Monk Talking to an Old Woman come straight from those who populated his Black Paintings.
Woman with Clothes Blowing in the Wind is one of the most modern of these compositions.
Nude Woman Reclining Against a Rock may be another reference to his tomb.
Although this painting has been identified as showing Susanna and the Elders, that is by no means certain, if strongly suggested by its composition.
By May 1825, though, Goya had fallen ill again, and his doctors feared the worst.
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.