G is for Goya

Maybe you were waiting for something a bit more original, a little bit more obscure, but Goya IS my favourite painter (up there with Hieronymus Bosch, whose work can also be found in the Prado Museum), so I really have no choice.

What I find interesting about Goya is the range of his work – from wonderfully frothy paintings of picnics in the Pradera de San Isidro
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 021

to his Dark Paintings, including my favourite Saturno devorando a un hijo (Saturn Devouring a Son).

Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo (1819-1823)

Like all great artists, Goya commented on the world around him. He reflected the horrors of war in his series Los desastres de la guerra (The War Disasters) where he shows the effects on society and the individual of the Independence War that Spain fought against the French from 1808 to 1814. One of his best known paintings, currently at the Prado Museum in Madrid is the Fusilamientos del tres de mayo (3rd May Executions), which shows Napoleon’s troops executing the Spanish population that had rebelled against them in Madrid in 1808. The painting saw the light in 1814, after the French were expelled from Spain.

El Tres de Mayo, by Francisco de Goya, from Prado in Google Earth

Through his Caprichos, a series of 80 prints, he laughed at ignorance, superstition and society in general. (To see the whole series, visit wikipedia.) By the way, if you teach any kind of performance art (or creative writing) and ever need inspiration, these drawings are wonderfully surreal and inspiring.

Nobody saw us.

Francisco de Goya was one of Spain’s most prolific painters. Born in 1746, he painted over 2000 works of art, including paintings, sketches, drawings, portraits and self-portraits until his death in 1828.

He left an amazing legacy and through his varied artistic styles, he showed that variety is the spice of life.

G is for Golpe de Estado 23-F 1981

I don’t know how it happened.

This year I missed the anniversary – maybe I was out for most of the day and busy all afternoon, but I missed the anniversary of one of the scariest days of Spanish democracy and just when I was getting to writing about the event for the AtoZ book, I realised. It’s gone, I missed it.

Adolfo Suarez, who had been at the head of Spain’s new democracy since 1976, resigned in 1981 feeling like he was losing the support of the people. He was passing on the role of president on 23rd February 1981 to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, when suddenly, there was some noise outside the Congress building. Some commotion, a bit of noise and then this guy with a mustache and a military hat oh wait, and a gun in his hand, came into the hall and said

Todos al suelo.

Nobody knew what was going on – was it a stunt? Indeed, if you look now at the footage, he looks like a clown but then it was really scary. I can tell you, cause I was 9 and I was watching it on TV. (In his book, Calvo Sotelo says that he actually thought it was a group of terrorists dressed up as guardias civiles that had entered the building.)T is also for Tejero, he was “that guy”. The sense of parody increases Gutierrez Mellado (part of the military himself and Minister of Defense at the time), stands up against them and you can see they don’t have a clue about how to react. Luckily they just pushed him around a bit, instead of shooting him in the head.

This military coup kept Spain breathless for one day. The mother of one of my school friends, who was foreign, called my house to ask for advice. What should she do? Send the kids to school the next day? Keep them at home? What was going on?

Luckily, the King stepped up. He asked the Spanish population to back democracy. Luckily, the military did too.

Do watch the videos: the first one has about 30 seconds of normality, making it all ever so powerful. The second one has the commentary of the journalist – even if you don’t understand what he’s saying, you’ll hear the panic in his voice as he sees the machine-guns come out.

G is for Guernica

‘El Guernica’ was created as a response to the bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque country. In April 1937, the German and Italian troops who were helping the rebels under Franco bombed the town with the aim of attacking its civil population. Following the request of the president of the Spanish republic, who still hadn’t succumbed to Franco’s rule, Picasso, already living in France, depicted the massacre in a painting to be shown in Paris that year.

The painting is a large black and white canvas, (3.50m x 7.80m) painted in a recognisable Picasso style (cubism). Picasso didn’t want the painting to return to Spain until the country became a democracy again and so it was housed in the MOMA in New York until 1981. It was then transferred to an annexe in the Prado Museum, the Cason del Buen Retiro. Since 1992, the painting has been hanging in Madrid’s Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, a public museum dedicated to contemporary art.

‘El Guernica’ is an emotive reminder of the horrors of war. As such, it hangs outside the UN’s security council’s entrance in New York. When in 2003, Colin Powell delivered a speech to convince the world of the need to attack Iraq, the copy of the Guernica was covered with a drape.

Picasso had wished for the US to keep his painting safe until Spain became a democracy once more. I wonder what he would have made of this.

During my research for The A to Z of Spanish Culture, I came across this video put together by the national TV channel, about the return of Picasso’s Guernica to Spain.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video here, but here is the link.