Francisco Goya's art in Vilnius

  • 2010-03-04
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

BE FREE IN YOUR THOUGHTS: The etching titled The sleep of reason produces monsters, by Francisco Goya. The etching’s author wrote, on one of the preparatory drawings for this print, “The author is dreaming. His only intention is to banish harmful superstition.”

VILNIUS - On Feb. 25, an exhibition of 78 etchings, with aquatint Los Caprichos by Spanish art genius Francisco Goya, was opened in the Vilnius Picture Gallery, which is situated on Didzioji Street 4 in Vilnius’ Old Town. Los Caprichos is one of the most influential series of graphic images in the history of Western art. “Capricho” can be translated as a “whim,” a “fantasy,” or an “expression of the imagination.” In Goya’s use of the term for this series of prints, however, the meaning is “the irony of human vice.” Some say those etchings by Goya are the first cartoons in history, though humor at the end of the 18th century can be more scary than funny for a person living in the 21st century.

Los Caprichos deals with such themes as the Spanish Inquisition, the corruption of the Church and the nobility, witchcraft, child rearing, and foolishness in Spanish society of that time. Goya lived in the times of censorship of the Spanish Inquisition. This means that he could not be very straightforward in his art. Goya, seeking to have some protection from the Inquisition, presented some of his etchings to the Spanish king.

Goya wrote his explanations to his etchings. For example, Goya wrote on one of the preparatory drawings for the print of the etching titled The sleep of reason produces monsters: “The author is dreaming. His only intention is to banish harmful superstition.” Los Caprichos were created in 1797-1798 and published for the first time in 1799. The prints, which are presented at the Vilnius Picture Gallery, were printed in 1806-1807.

“It is the masterpiece which 200 years ago shook other artists,” Romualdas Budrys, director of the Lithuanian Art Museum (the Vilnius Picture Gallery is its branch), said about Goya’s series of etchings at the opening ceremony of the Los Caprichos print exhibition.

The exhibition is officially held to honor Spain’s presidency over the European Union during the first half of this year. “Goya’s art broke ties with the 18th century tradition of classicism. It was unusual art then - portraying witches and prostitutes was unacceptable to the society of that time,” Jose Luis Solano Gadea, Spanish ambassador to Lithuania, said at the opening ceremony.

Los Caprichos arrived from the Latvian National Museum of Art. According to Jelena Viktorova, Latvian tutor at the exhibition, such etchings, representing the macabre-style reality of 18th century Spain, are quite suitable for show in such difficult times as they are now.

These etchings were shown for the first time in the fall of 2009, in Riga. In 1930, the etchings were brought to the Riga City Art Museum by some unknown art collector. The documentation of art purchases was not so strict in those times and the name of the seller remained unknown. The original Los Caprichos has 80 etchings. The museum in Riga purchased 78.
According to Daiga Upeniece, head of the foreign art department of the Latvian National Museum of Art, the two etchings, which were not bought, are extremely scary - they show torture of children, and could be the reason why they were not bought by the museum. The prints are sensitive to light. This is why, after the exhibition in Vilnius, which will be closed on May 18, the etchings will ‘rest’ in storage at the Latvian National Museum of Art for the next two years.

Vilnius Picture
Gallery opening hours: Tue - Sat: 11:00-18:00
On Sunday and eves of national holidays: 12:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays and national holidays.