January 22, 2014
Just finished reading Robert Hughes' book on Goya. It's a great match: Hughes' earthy wit and eye are right at home in Goya's world. It is not so much a critical volume as a love song to a great painter, his spirit, and rambling tour through a critical phase of Spanish history. After all, Goya lived through the period when Spain's New World colonies broke Spain's rule over them. Colonies often retain a certain amount of the character of their colonial master's culture at the moment of separation.
I had the good fortune to dine with Hughes a few times. This was before he retired back to Australia, when he was the primary art critic for Time magazine. He is very funny and an exceptionally good conversationalist. He is one of those rare writers whose wit is more scintillating in person than on the page. He thrives on the opportunities of real encounters and a live audience.
In a recent article on the "Delacroix and the matter of finish" exhibition at the Santa Barbara Art Museum, I mention Delacroix's position as a key painter bridging the old masters and Modern painting. But the real crux point is Goya's mature work. It is in Goya that we see the definitive dropping away of an interest in finish and the more improvisational, open hand so admired by the early Moderns, particularly Picasso. As Hughes points out, Delacroix was aware of Goya, already singing his praises before he was hardly known outside Spain. So the painter's know who is who and what is what.