While Francisco Goya (1746–1828) was in retirement in Bordeaux, France, in May 1825 he fell seriously ill again, and his doctors there feared the worst. But by July, he had once again bounced back and was busy working on a superb set of lithographs showing bullfighting scenes, known today as the Bulls of Bordeaux. Indeed, during the last four years of his life, Goya concentrated almost exclusively on drawing and printmaking.
When he had been in Paris in July 1824, Goya painted Bullfight, Suerte de Varas for his friend Ferrer there. The Suerte de Varas is the first phase of a bullfight, in which the picador weakens the bull using his lance.
In the autumn of 1825, the Goya household moved to another property in Bordeaux. The following May he returned alone to Madrid to petition King Fernando VII to be allowed to retire on full pay, which seems entirely reasonable at the age of eighty. The king granted his request, and allowed Goya to return to his retirement in France, more financially secure.
Goya is believed to have painted The Milkmaid of Bordeaux in the period 1825-27, as a sensitive and touching portrait of Leocadia Weiss. There’s speculation as to who painted this, whether it was Goya alone, or together with Leocadia’s daughter Rosario. Tragically, after Goya’s death, Leocadia had to sell this painting to raise cash, but it did at least mean that it came to be donated to the Prado in 1945.
During these final years of his life, Goya painted few portraits. Among them is this Portrait of Mariano Goya, the Artist’s Grandson which he completed during his visit to Madrid in the summer of 1827. As his only male heir, the artist had special affection for Mariano, and had paid in from his own salary to secure his future with an income. He had previously painted him as a small child in about 1815, but here he is a young man of twenty-one. Mariano arrived with his mother in Bordeaux on 28 March 1828, just a few days before the artist’s death, and it was he who gave formal notification of that to the Spanish Consul.
On 1 April 1828, Goya suffered a stroke which left him unable to speak and partially paralysed. He died peacefully in his retirement home in Bordeaux on 16 April, and was initially buried locally. His remains (less his head, which seems to have gone missing) were transferred in 1919 to Madrid, where they were interred a second time in the Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, the Royal Chapel whose ceiling and cupola Goya had painted. In 1928, his remains were moved again to an identical copy of the original chapel which had been built next to it, allowing the original to be converted into a museum.
Goya changed Spanish painting, and his influence extended across the rest of Europe. In the final article in this series, I’ll look at a small selection of his finest paintings.
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.