Review: Goya: The Portraits @National Gallery

The National Gallery’s latest exhibition focuses on the portrait work of Francisco de Goya and reveals an artist who fully understood his subjects and managed to bring them to life through his paintings.

Goya:The Portraits is an exhibition that allows the work to speak for itself, with plenty of room for the portraits to standout thanks to the quality and style in which Goya originally created them. From the very first room it is easy to be impressed with the variety in terms of subjects and the size of pieces, that reveal Goya’s confidence in working in a number of different ways to create his pieces.

The Osuna Family, 1788
Francisco de Goya.The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children 1788, © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

All of the pieces that have been selected for display in this well-presented exhibition, are all of equal quality and clarity in terms of the subjects expressions and characters coming through the paintings and leave the viewer wanting to know more about the people in the paintings.

The trouble with this exhibition is that unless you get the audio guide to help you around the exhibition, there is very little information available in each of the rooms with regards to Goya’s life and career that if you are unfamiliar with his work you are left none the wiser about the artist himself.

But what Goya:The Portraits does do well is show the relaxed nature of his portraits. Each of the portraits for example although initially when you look at them seem to be formal in style, the poses that each of the subjects makes suggest a more laid back approach that is never usually seen in portraiture. If visitors wonder around the display, it is quite clear to see that none of the paintings ever see the subject sitting or posing in exactly the same way, showing Goya’s willingness to experiment and constantly change.

Countess-Duchess of Benavente, 1785
Francisco de Goya,The Countess-Duchess of Benavente 1785, Private Collection, Spain, © Joaquín Cortés.

While throughout his work there is a sense of boldness and confidence, in certain portraits such as the paintings of The Countess-Duchess of Benavente (1785) and The Marchioness of Santa Cruz (1805), there is also a lovely softness and delicacy about his work that is pleasing to witness.

But what makes all of these portraits so intriguing to look at closely is the way in which the viewer’s eye is drawn to the subject’s face before taking in anything else in the portrait. Goya’s accuracy for capturing the subject’s personality through the way in which he uses his skills is extraordinary and proves why he is one of Spain’s most celebrated artists.

Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, 1798
Francisco de Goya,Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos,1798, Image Copyright: Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid.

By seeing beyond people’s appearances and in a sense looking deep into their souls, Goya proved that portraiture could be a lot more than just capturing how a person looked on the outside for generations to come but also an attempt to keep their personality alive as well.

There is nothing pompous or forced about this exhibition and probably has more to offer those who are familiar to Goya’s work and want to admire his work in person. But if you are a newcomer, then it would probably be best if you do your research before coming as the artist himself remains a mystery.

Goya: The Portraits is open to the public at the National Gallery from the 7th October until the 10th January 2016.

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