The Witches and Old Women Album
At the start of the exhibition is a self portrait of Goya. At first glance he looks like a man who, unafraid of dark corners, could handle a street fight and relish it. But then again, the left eye looks down from the shadows as if into less friendly lands, the right looks upwards and out at the world, both contain a sensitivity and concentrated inward reflection.
In the galleries beyond, those dark corners emerge at full force through delicate washes of ink describing in fluent marks and solitary spaces the frailty of humanity, its lusting cruelties, its headlong plunge in a falling nightmare, the inevitable descent towards old age and, however defiantly managed, incapacity and death. Sounds miserable, strangely it isn’t, and not just for the perfect brilliance of the drawings which appear to fall willingly from Goya’s brush.
Amongst his vision of baby-eating witches, shamelessly absorbed, who assume from our intent gaze a complicity that doubly shocks, is the unconsciously abandoned snoring man, caught in noisy unselfconscious sleep, and there is a relief in humorous acknowledgement. There is compassion in the drawing of a 98 year old walking bent and alone with two sticks ‘Just can’t go on at the age of 98’ – is this our destiny? Maybe. In the unabated joy of ‘Mirth’ two grinning figures float upwards in weightless abandon and airborne dance. With limited brushstrokes he created volume, energy, weight, balance, off-balance with all the technical necessities that made him brilliant, but the brilliance beyond that is the world he creates for our imagination that we can all recognise.
There are many ways of engaging with Goya he’s playful, insightful, shocking, caustic. It’s all here, along with the determination of the human spirit which shines through these delicate but never fragile masterpieces.