The Dog is one of the fourteen Pinturas Negras (Black Paintings, see Painting It Black) that Goya painted in his house outside Madrid towards the end of his life. The Dog conveys a sense of sublimity, terror and an unbearable pathos with an enviable simplicity.
The painting is divided in two unequal parts: a dirty ochre above and a dark brown below. There has been much debate regarding the origin of the shadow to the right of the painting, and whether it is intentional, however it probably was the previous design on the wall which Goya painted over. Staring upward into the vastness of the sky is the dog, alone and apparently sinking into the quicksand of the earth. All the heart-break and despair involved in terrestrial existence is concentrated in the expression of mute appeal of the dog as he searches the heavens for a sign of a return of his varnished master.
The Dog has been called the first Symbolist painting and was held in particular high regard by Picasso and Joan Miro.
The Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828), along with the English poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) and the French pornographer and philosopher the Marquis De Sade (1740-1816) completed the Enlightenment by showing its reverse. These very different figures with very different opinions and beliefs instinctively realised that humanity cannot bear the harsh glare of reason for too long, and that you ignore the dark irrational impulses residing within the mind at your peril.
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is No 43 of the 80 etchings that comprise the satirical series Los Caprichos. Showing the artist asleep at his work desk, he is surrounded by the creatures of the night, including owls, which from the Middle Ages symbolised folly, and bats.The full epigraph for this etching states, ‘Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.’
Goya however was fascinated by these monsters produced by the sleep of reason. From 1790 onward Goya produced one searing work after another on the subjects of the Witches Sabbath, the disasters of war, the continued presence of superstition and the horrors of the Inquisition. In his home outside Madrid in the last years of his life he produced the brilliant yet extremely disturbing murals known as the Pinturas Negras (see Painting It Black and The Dog).
The last thirty years has seen an excess of rationality, a supposed end of history as the globe embraced free markets and liberal democracy and we all bowed to the logic that quantity would bring quality of life. As Goya, De Sade and Blake showed us at the end of the eighteenth century, examples that Nietzsche and Freud followed and expanded, reason only satisfies so much before it becomes too much. At the moment we are drifting off into sleep, waiting for the monsters produced to be unleashed.
The most famous and the most horrific of the disturbing series of paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house outside Madrid in his later years, the so-called ‘Black Paintings’. The paintings were probably never intended for public view, it was only after his death that they were hacked off and transferred to canvas.
Intensely, hermetically private, the Black Paintings show Goya unmuzzling his fertile, macabre imagination. Traditionally believed to refer to the Greek myth of Cronus (Romanized as Saturn), the titan that devours each of his children in turn. Goya’s visceral masterpiece shockingly highlights the cannibalistic frenzy and wild-eyed derangement of the Father of the Gods as he holds the torso of the half-consumed body towards his gaping mouth. Whereas the Italian humanists of the Renaissance had, in their re-interpretation of Classical mythology, concentrated on cavorting nymphs in sunlit Arcadian landscapes, Goya instead presents us with the vision of the primeval truths contained in myths; that of our darkest impulses unleashed in the blackest of nights. Goya is indeed the first of the moderns.