From Publishers Weekly
A long life and vast works make fitting subjects for the epic-minded Hughes (The Shock of the New, etc.). Born in Aragon in 1746, Goya weathered the Peninsular Wars (1808-1814) in Spain and lived to the age of 82, when he died in self-imposed exile in France. Hughes denies the popular image of the artist as a die-hard iconoclast, painting court portraits while winking behind his patrons' backs. Staying close to the visual evidence, Hughes shows Goya was not above flattering his royal subjects (aggrandizing midget count Altamira), waxing patriotic (as in the famous Third of May) and taking commissions from the Bonapartes under the French occupation. In middle age he was struck deaf by an unidentifiable illness, at which point his pictures turned darker-a bullfighter gored before eager spectators, the inmates of a madhouse clamoring for respite. His Desastres de la guerra rendered the mute, gaping horror of guerrilla combat. Under a picture of refugees fleeing the French, he inscribed, "I saw it." Whether or not this much debated act of witness really happened, for Hughes it is Goya's urgent visual economy that "invented... the illusion of being there when dreadful things happen." Given his intimate understanding of the painter, one regrets that Hughes's diligent catalogues of the Caprichos and Pinturas Negras (among the 115 color and 100 b&w illustrations) often forgo in-depth analysis for textbook thoroughness. But he compellingly insists on Goya's prophetic genius, arguing that, for an age that has produced few great paintings in response to modern terrors, Goya's pictures anticipate disasters unheard of but yet to arrive.
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Australian-born Hughes, art critic for Time
and the author of 10 acclaimed books, begins his expert and passionate interpretation of the life and work of the seminal artist Goya with a dramatic account of how, during his recovery from a nearly fatal car crash, he was visited by the great painter in the twilight zone of his pain. This empathic connection with Goya, who suffered his own isolating and debilitating crisis in his mid-forties when a fierce illness left him deaf, enabled Hughes to write a remarkably vital, delectably discursive, and deeply affecting study of an artist whose unique and powerful work grows more significant with each passing year. Goya, Hughes writes, "truly was a realist, one of the first and greatest," but he was also a sly and courageous social critic, creating indelible images of both earthy satire and epic tragedy. Declaring the prolific, "sanguine and ironic" Goya "the last Old Master and the first Modernist," Hughes brings eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Madrid to dynamic life and insightfully dissects every aspect of Goya's ever-evolving paintings and etchings, indelible works that grew steadily darker, more disturbing, and increasingly radical in their indictment of injustice and violence. Hughes' profound appreciation for Goya's genius and "immense humanity" will inspire readers to look to Goya's magnificent, shocking, and clarifying works as to a polestar as we grapple with the inhumanity of our times. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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