Noah Becker on Goya Masterpieces You Need To Know

Francisco Goya, Sacrifice to Pan, 1771


Just a bit of an introduction before we get started here. Let's speak less critically and less historically and more technically about what is gained on a painterly level in our own work from studying Goya. If you are a painter, perhaps this will help you learn something you didn't know.

The first work by Goya, Sacrifice to Pan, is a great example of how Goya makes things very artificial looking. The statue of Pan they are giving offerings to looks almost partially alive in this picture. On a painterly level I'm always drawn to painters who can do this kind of shorthand in paint. I've been lucky enough in my own work to understand this painterly logic but it was only after I started to use stand oil as an oil painting medium. The way Goya suggests leaves within the darker areas brings in a lot of additional depth to the picture. Certainly the angle on the statue's base suggests a perspective and depth within this scene.

Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808. Oil on canvas, 266 х 345 cm.

Most of you should know this piece by Goya. The Third of May from 1808 is almost certainly the artist's masterwork. It's interesting to look at his influences in relation to his works. For example I made a copy of a Goya drawing made from Diego Velasquez's Las Meninas. That's an interesting fact only if your goal is to make paintings in a fully formed multiple figure kind of format - the secrets are there. Goya was aware of Rembrandt and Velasquez and it is apparent in his works. Manet is part of this, as is John Singer Sargent in terms of how the ideas resonate. In my many years of studying Goya, I found that he often uses a red or orange underpainting that shines through the darker areas, this was helpful. After reading Delacroix's journals I started using a warm red or orange underpainting exclusively. I'm not sure if Sargent was doing that and in terms of Velasquez and Rembrant, different again. The Third of May in terms of the format Goya sets up to allow figures to live there is instructive - it's something like a fish tank or habitat for animals at a zoo for me.

Franciso Goya, Still Life with Golden Bream

Here I enjoy the way you can't really tell if the fish are dead or not. Also the shiny aspect of the fish creates that lovely glow most sought after by painters of light. The eyes of the fish are artificial looking and once again this kind of thing makes them look more real than they would normally be.  WM

The birthplace of Goya


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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