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on 3 March 2010
Throughout history we have examples of biographers so committed to the works of their artist subject that the reporting of the writer seems like the visual becoming oral. Such is the case of James Lord and Giacometti, David Sylvester and Francis Bacon, and now Robert Hughes and Jose de Goya y Lucientes. Hughes new publication entitled simply GOYA is the zenith work in the line of brilliant art history writing, books that include 'The Shock of the New' and 'American Visions' as well as definitive books on artists Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud. His knowledge is both technically sophisticated and psychologically sound and he is a gifted writer in about any métier.

But there is something more to this book than biography. Goya has been important to Hughes throughout his life: his first art purchase as student in Australia was one of the etchings of Goya's `Capricho' series. It wasn't until 1999, when Hughes came close to meeting death from an accident, was in a coma, then gradually recovered through a long series of debilitating therapies, that Hughes was able to overcome his writer's block and actually set about to write the biography of the artist who had become his obsession for years. Hughes admits that it was probably this experience coupled with a vision of Goya himself that made him truly comprehend and incorporate Goya's life of reactionary to the Church, to the absurdity and viciousness of War, to the Inquisition, and to the social injustices he observed. And the interesting parallel of course is that Goya suffered physically not only due to complete deafness, but also to undiagnosed maladies that made his life a trial but did not stop his painting.

Hughes writing style is urbane and conversational, informed and witty, impeccably researched and yet related as though the reader were sitting at the feet of an old longtime acquaintance of Goya. He obviously is in awe of Goya's works, allows him the court portraits and tapestries that Goya endured for money, and makes it a point to examine each painting with fine scrutiny - finding every self portrait of the artist in paintings most other scholars have missed. Rather that writing the life of Goya from his birth chronologically through to his death and epilogue, Hughes examines a life that is inevitably destined to paint the darkness of the Black Paintings and the Caprichos with frequent asides, a style that creates incredible energy in the telling of the life of this amazing artist. Example: In 1980 Goya applied to a "proper institution" - the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando and his entrance exam was a painting entitled "Crucified Christ". Hughes: "It is without much doubt the worst painting he ever did. How could a man who would emerge, some thirty years later, as the most powerful reporter of human anguish in all of Western art have produced this soapy piece of bondieuserie? The ladylike body, unmarked by torment; the absence of any kind of empathy with what real bodies underwent in the course of flogging and crucifixion; the enervated "correctness" of pose - all this combines to convey a sort of sickly, moaning piety that, if it were not for the relative liveliness of the paint and its impeccable provenance, would make you doubt it was by Goya at all." These are not damning critical flagellations: these are the responses of a writer who knows his subject well.

This richly illustrated volume (one only wishes the plates were larger) is well designed to keep pace with history, psychology, and a world timeline and it should be in the libraries of students, artists, art lovers, and scholars. In a line of important books, GOYA is most assuredly the finest product of the gifted Hughes' mind and pen. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Grady Harp, March 10
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on 3 February 2012
I've been a fan of the Spanish Peninsular War (1808-14) from time immemorial, I own a copy of the Goya portrait of Wellington (the one stolen from the National Portrait Gallery and shown in Dr. No's lair in the first James Bond picture), and I'm a fan of Robert Hughes' work, especially The Fatal Shore! Other than a brief visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid in 2003, I knew next to nothing on Goya but I liked his Disastres series and he knew Wellington, a personal hero of mine.

I was browsing the Mitchell Library in Sydney recently and came across a copy of Hughes' book on Goya, it was like holding a gold bar in my hand, it was that heavy, and with good reason. The pages are of pure gloss because they contain high quality reproductions of many of Goya's most brilliant paintings, many of which I'd seen at the Prado. After the most cursory flick through this book I knew I had to own it. Which I duly did shortly thereafter.

I read it straight away and was blown away - by the author's in-depth understanding of the subject, of his own demonic battles; physical and temporal (WA Justice of which I have a unique sympathy) and his truly engaging narrative that is a mix of historical insights, pure empathy with the subject, total understanding of the painting, it origins and meanings, and a biting wit (and withering irony) when it comes to subjects to the author's distaste (e.g. Ferdinand VII and the Inquisition). As an avid reader of many subjects, I was transfixed by the beauty of this book and the words on the page, that it took me longer than normal to read a book of such magnitude. Thinking back now, the experience of reading it sends a shiver down my spine, it was such an experience. I don't think I can read another art book again and feel the same. Hughes' raised the bar and he knows it.

I have three minor complaints: first, the cover page needs a descriptor to accompany the title - "Goya" is too simple for the non-aficionado; second, a portrait of Joseph Bonaparte (though non were painted by Goya himself) would help the narrative during the middle phase of the book; and third, please Robert Hughes do not hold back on criticism WA or its justice system, this institution did you wrong and it fails thousands of people every year. The lack of criticism perpetuates the inequities it practices and there is no counterweight to its oppression, like the Inquisition. Goya would certainly understand this and empathise accordingly.

To all else, this book is simply one of the best I have ever read, and I am not into art! Do yourself a favour and buy it, if not read it at the library!
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Until about 12 years ago, I thought of Goya as a minor artist who had done few memorable works. Then, I happened to stumble upon a major exhibition of Goya's etchings and aquatints at a Rennes museum in Brittany. I was astonished and compelled by what I saw. Most of the exhibit focused on a theme of antiwar and I wanted to know more. Many people have told me since that it's hard to find good books about Goya's etchings and aquatints. So I picked up this volume hoping to fill the void. My expectations with regard to the etchings and aquatints were more than fulfilled. Thank you, Mr. Hughes.
The book offered me much more. It has very good coverage of all Goya's work and what is known about his personal life. Mr. Hughes also has a wonderful ability to describe a work of art in a way that helps you see it in its historical context . . . rather than just in terms of today. From those perspectives, I became equally enthused about Goya's Caprichos and came to understand more about bullfighting and witches than I ever would have otherwise.
The book has a personal touch to it that is compelling. Mr. Hughes suffered a horrible accident before starting this book and had a lengthy recovery before he could begin the work. All of that frustration seems to have energized him to make the book come to life more than one would have ever thought possible.
The book does have three flaws that you should be aware of before beginning. First, the reproductions are usually quite small. If Mr. Hughes hadn't pointed out the tiny details in many cases, no reader would have been able to discern those details from looking at the pages here. Second, you will probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about the Spanish Bourbons for whom Goya was the court painter. There is such as thing as too much historical context. Third, Mr. Hughes like to make unnecessary criticisms at historical figures that seem gratuitously related to the work here. For example, Ernest Hemingway is characterized as having modeled his style after a woman writer and therefore cannot write appropriately about bull fights.
But if you want to find lots of reasons to enjoy Goya, this is your book.
Good viewing!
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on 19 January 2010
Robert Hughes' Goya is a herculean effort to understand and explain a true master, his life, his works and his world. Goya's brilliance and unassuming visions are a wealth of legend and myth and the author makes a great showing of revealing the causes, emotions and events behind the paintings and etchings of a man who joined the classical masters to the modern age. From his late beginnings to the near-madness and bitterness of the Black Paintings, Hughes delivers a factual yet personal account that is engrossing and informative.

If this book has a flaw it is that it lacks the weight of a European point of view. True, Hughes' Australian/American standpoint offers a fresh look at a subject that many in Europe understand more naturally, but it goes through patches which seem gauche, bordering on inaccurate. For an example of this, early in the book, the author notes the most prominent names in Spanish art, conveniently neglecting Miro & Gaudi. Similarly, he dismisses Picasso's cubism, something which a European art scholar could never bring themselves to do. This book was written for an audience across the pond, and, from time to time, it shows.

But such quibbles seem, even as I am noting them, to be minor. When one focuses on Hughes' explanations and adventures into Goya's world, we are given a wealth of knowledge that flows lyrically as well as professionally. An excellent introduction to the life and soul of a genius.
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on 19 January 2004
I thought this was an excellent introduction to Goya's work. It was very readable and put Goya in context by filling in the background of Spanish history during the artist's life. It was great to read Hughes' interpretations and explanations of Goya's paintings and engravings as he builds up a picture of an artist who lived a long life and made a huge contribution to the history of art. The repro quality is superb and the fact that the descriptions and the paintings are usually on the same page add to the accessibility of this book. I'm determined now to go to Madrid to the Prado to see the paintings in the original and to read all I can on Goya before I go.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 November 2012
This is a positively sumptuous delight. It even manages to keep comments about the paintings on the same page so you can check on your reaction to Hughes' explanations, and how they match (or not) with your own reactions. But this book also gives you a history of Spain, of a kind, as Goya struggles to make his name and keep his privileged position. He seems to manage this until quite late in his career when neurolabyrinthitis and deafness made things very difficult. However, he did recover his career and lived to an unusually active age of 84. Goya's painting life was prolific, though it did not always please its patrons. His father had a trade as a gilder, but Goya was to succeed far beyond his parents expectations. Goya had good friends who were able to introduce him to influential people. He came second in a painting competition in Rome and this helped to make his name at the Spanish court. As well as impressive work for the Church, he painted numerous scenes from a less salubrious viewpoint. He was early to discover that painting according to the laws laid down by less gifted artists was a waste of his talent.

He spent a long time at the court of Carlos III creating patterns and scenes for tapestries. But he grew disillousioned with this work and wanted to move on. He is most famous for the Naked Maja (and the clothed companion painting), who, in reality was not the Duchess of Alba, as is commonly supposed, but a girlfriend of one of his friends. But in fact there are countless beautiful, energetic and lively paintings in his oeuvre, as well as the darker series' depicting the truth about Spanish venality, and in times of war, the pitiless deprivations endured by the ordinary people. He painted and drew many themes bearing on the Peninsular War, a conflict that saw French and Spanish armies fighting for control of Iberia during the Napoleonic Wars. Then in 1808 the French turned on Spain in a war that lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814.

The darkest work was still to come, with the so-called black paintings of his late period. Some of which depict acts of extreme barbarity and horror. Goya wanted to show the dark side of life for the peasant, the beggars and those housed in lunatic asylums. It was part of his deep feelings for the lost and abandoned that made these paintings necessary. If you are interested in painting, this is an invaluable introduction to the oeuvre of the inimitable Francisco Goya.
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on 31 March 2006
I have always had a passion for music but it is really only in the last 3 or 4 years that I have begun to truly appreciate the painted art form. Having visited a number of Europe's leading picture galleries I took the opportunity to spend a day in the Museu Del Prado during a trip to Madrid last year. The Del Prado has by far the largest single collection of Francisco de Goya's work in the world.
Much like Robert Hughes, I was immediately moved and fascinated by what I saw - in particular the legendary Black paintings recovered from the artist's home after his death. I left determined to find out more about the man and bought this book after reading other user's glowing recommendations. I found it informative and highly readable. Crucially it is also opinionated as all writing on the arts should be, lest it give nothing more than can be obtained from a gallery audioguide.
Hughes goes to great lengths to position Goya in his time and to demonstrate the effect the pig-ignorant rule of the Bourbons and the atrocities of both the Inquisition and the Peninsula War had on his state of mind and hence his art. Whilst he recognised Goya's importance to the art world, he makes a compelling case for Goya as the one artist of his time to exert a great influence on modern reportage.
The prints are plentiful and of an excellent quality and Hughes detailed examination of both minor and major pieces is every bit as insightful and moving as the broader-brush historical angles.
I simply cannot recommend this book strongly enough - it's marvellous.
I will now be adding Hughes' slighter biography of that other Spanish giant of European art - Picasso - to my wish list!
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Or, Behold the Men: Hughes and Goya. There seems to be a current electrifying painter and biographer, so sensitive is this biography even by the standards of the always lively, judicious Hughes. No wonder we find elsewhere, in his essay on Goya in 'Nothing if not Critical' to be specific, Hughes noting "Picasso meditated on Goya from first to last and was always scared of the comparison." Quite. And a magnificent compliment to Goya from one who admires Picasso immensely. An example of the critic's eye and brain: read the description of the underknown May 1st Madrid painting and read Hughes merely on a detail, the sabre: it is quite amazing: it is as if he is using pigments as he finds the words to try to catch the painter in his net. Yes, you may learn more about the Bourbons than you thought you wanted, but Hughes is immersing you in Goya's age precisely to in order to help you appreciate Goya through his world and thus his art. This is a beautifully written, compellingly argued book to satisfy anyone. A painter this great deserves his (distant) Boswell. R.I.P. Bob Hughes, your own work outlives you.
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on 3 October 2016
When Robert Hughes went to town on a subject, he really went to town. You can see it and read it in The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's and Barcelona. The former is so deeply researched and then brought together as a very readable book on the convict history of Hughes' Australia. The latter is a travelogue-a-like book of Barcelona but not as you might expect with insights on the history and architecture.

This magnum opus on Goya is simply amazing in the depth and the ground that it covers. It should receive a few more looks given the current filmic interest in the painter and a recent 'blockbuster' style flick release (which is pretty much utter tosh).

Hughes builds the picture of Goya from the maker of cartoons for the Royal tapestry factory through the etchings of the war in Spain , through the Black Paintings and to his self-taken exile in Bordeaux. At no time does he lay it on so thick that you want to give up. This is a book by an art historian on a painter who he clearly loves his subject and it brings his work and it's importance into sharp focus.

Should be owned by every painter.

Right up there with some of the very best art books
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2007
Engrossing book not only about the artist Goya but also the history of the times he lived in. Having recently seen Goya's Ghosts I wanted to find out much more. I was intrigued to see too, well after reading this book, that the writer Robert Hughes is quite high profile at present and has been making controversial comments regarding Damian Hirst and his recent auction at Sotherby's.

Goya lived in Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and in his own way discretely protested by use of his etchings and paintings. Interestingly too, he was deaf from the age of 46 but lived on into his 80s - unusual for the times when most people died at an early age from infectious disease. Due to his long life there is a wealth of visual information reflecting that era and the historical changes that took place including the invasion by Napoleon. This book is enormously interesting with full descriptions of the paintings and the background to them. I would highly recommend this writer.
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