A Folio Society limited edition

Goya: Disasters of War

Francisco de Goya

Introduced by Mark McDonald

The first edition to reproduce Goya’s own prints of these momentous etchings

Limited to 980 copies

Published price: US$ 795.00


Goya: Disasters of War

'Fatal consequences of the bloody war in Spain with Bonaparte, and other emphatic caprices' was the title of the manuscript Francisco de Goya gave to his friend Ceán Bermúdez an art critic and collector. This collection of 85 etchings contained some of the most powerful images of the horrors of war ever created and is now considered a forerunner of modern war reportage. This facsimile is the first reproduced from those proofs and thus bears the closest likeness to Goya’s conception of the Disasters.

Production Details

Goya: Disasters of War book
  • Facsimile volume
  • Edition limited to 980 hand-numbered copies.
  • 11¾" x 8¼"
  • 176 pages with 85 illustrations
  • Printed on Insize Chagall Candido
  • Endpapers hand-marbled by Jemma Lewis
  • Bound in full leather with a gold-blocked leather titling label on the spine
  • Goya’s signature printed on bottom page edges

  • Commentary volume
  • 11¾" x 8¼"
  • 72 pages with 23 integrated colour illustrations
  • Set in Bell with DeVinne display
  • Printed on Veltique paper
  • Bound in Balmoral cloth with letterpress printed label on front board
  • Blocked on spine and front board

  • Solander Box
  • Balmoral cloth with Wibalin lining
  • Letterpress label inset on front board

The first facsimile reproduced exactly as Goya intended

‘The object of my work is to report the actuality of events’

The images in the Disasters of War were created over the period of a decade. For each, Goya created preparatory drawings, mostly in red chalk, some in ink and wash. When working on the etchings he experimented with copper plates of varying size and a range of papers and inks.

Almost 500 individual proofs of the Disasters survive; however, the one set which can be regarded as definitive is contained in the album that Goya gave to his great friend Ceán Bermúdez, titled on the spine – somewhat confusingly – 'Capricho de Goya'. Now housed in the British Museum, it provides information about Goya’s intentions not found anywhere else. It alone bears Goya’s original title for the work, his signature, written on the closed page edges of the album, and the captions for each etching, hand-written in pencil by the artist himself.

The preliminary drawings and copper plates were stored by Goya’s son Javier, and were not found until after Javier’s death in 1854. In 1862 the plates were bought by the Royal Academy of San Fernando, which published the first edition the following year under the title Los Desastres de la Guerra. However, this and all subsequent editions, bear significant differences from Goya’s proofs. When preparing the etchings for printing, Goya wiped the plates to give maximum contrast between the etched lines and the whiteness of the paper. But in the editions created after his death, a film of ink was left on the surface of the plates, sometimes augmented with aquatint, giving a heavy tone to the entire print. The original proofs have a depth of black, a sharpness and an intensity which the published editions lack.

This facsimile is the first reproduced from Goya’s proofs, and thus bears the closest likeness to Goya’s conception of the Disasters. To achieve an exact match with the originals, four printings were employed, comprised of a pale cream to match the paper shade and three different blacks which together give the intensity and tonal variety of the original prints. The antique laid paper is also as close a match as possible to that used by Goya.

The original Céan Bermúdez Album is bound in acid-etched leather, an effect which has been closely replicated for this facsimile edition through the use of a patented transfer technique whose secret is closely guarded by a tannery in Portugal. The colours and pattern of the marbled endpapers have also been carefully based on the original album, though of course each copy is different since every sheet is produced by hand by Jemma Lewis.

A forerunner of modern reportage

‘When I took pictures in war I couldn’t help thinking of Goya’
Don McCullin

With his unremitting focus on the anguish of the individual, Goya would have appreciated Dalí’s sardonic comment that ‘wars have never hurt anybody except the people who die’. Nothing in this album attenuates, disguises or distracts from the physical grotesqueries that the war’s participants visit upon one another. As Aldous Huxley wrote in 1947: ‘Goya never illustrates an engagement, never shows us impressive masses of troops marching in column or deployed in the order of battle.’ While others painted colourful panoramas of the battlefield that rendered individual agonies indistinct, he crafted nightmarish close-ups – more akin to the most graphic and haunting of modern war photographs than to the work of other artists of the time. It is no surprise that the Disasters has been described as prefiguring both war photojournalism and documentary film.

Francisco de Goya - a court painter who pushed the boundaries of art

‘No other artist in black and white has ever exhibited such tremendous vitality, such seething indignation and wealth of invention, as Goya’
Aldous Huxley

Francisco de Goya was born in 1746 in Aragon, northern Spain. He produced over 1,900 works, including allegorical paintings, fantastical drawings, cartoons, satirical etchings and the many portraits commissioned by the aristocracy. He was extraordinarily skilled, both in well-established and newly emerging techniques – his Bulls of Bordeaux are among the finest lithographs ever made. Goya’s subjects were enormously varied, ranging from hunting scenes and duels to poverty, witchcraft and madness. Moreover, he broke artistic taboos, depicting violent and erotic scenes with an unprecedented frankness; his painting The Naked Maja saw him summoned before the Inquisition on a charge of obscenity. It is for these manifold qualities that he is seen as both the last Old Master and the first modern artist. Goya often pursued private projects alongside his work as a court painter. Even after 1793, when serious illness left him deaf, his output was prolific. The greater freedom these projects allowed led to the most subversive and fascinating of his works, and none more so than in the aquatint etchings known as the Disasters of War.

'A personal record of war' - from Mark McDonald's commentary

We do not know why the Disasters was not published in Goya’s lifetime, but the return of the despotic Ferdinand in 1814 and Goya’s decision to leave Spain in 1823 as a result of political oppression are the most likely explanations. It would not have been possible to publish them while the French occupied Spain or when the prints condemned the actions of a government in power. Furthermore, would there have been any audience for images that reminded people of the horror that had blighted their country for so long? Goya might have begun the Disasters as a personal record of the war, maybe to give to his enlightened friends, but by the time he added the captions he clearly intended it as a book to be published.

The Disasters are an important moment in the history of representing conflict. It has often been observed that although the Disasters condemn the atrocities of war, they are not overtly partisan. They are neither a manifesto nor a bold declaration. Goya depicts war in human, not patriotic, terms. He identifies those involved, the heroes, the victims, the persecutors and the traitors, yet none of the prints depict a specific individual, event, landscape or town, which would have given them documentary status. This makes the Disasters very different from other images of the same war, where specific moments of conflict and identifiable individuals are recorded... In Goya’s prints, the compositions and the subjects, what is shown and what is obscured, provoke reflection on the wider implications of conflict. The universality of the meaning, which was surely Goya’s aim, would have been undermined if he identified specific details. In the matrix of associations they create, the images remain as relevant today as when they were created.
From page 32 of Mark McDonald's commentary for the Folio edition of Disasters of War

Goya's plates in detail - from Mark McDonald's commentary

PLATE 3: 'The same' (Lo mismo)
Etching, wash, drypoint, burin and burnisher; 160 × 217 mm

A Spanish civilian in a furious state, whose contorted face resembles a cadaver’s, uses all his strength to raise an axe above his head to strike the soldier below, who raises his hand in a gesture of useless defence. A soldier directly beneath him has already fallen, while another at the left is about to be stabbed by a man riding on his back. The image powerfully expresses the desperation of Spanish civilians who committed themselves fully to the resistance even though they were ill equipped for such combat.

PLATE 7: ‘What courage!’ (Que valor!)
Etching, drypoint and burin; 155 × 205 mm

This is the only print in the Disasters that might refer to a known individual, Agustina of Aragón. On 4 July 1808, the French soldiers stormed the Portillo, a gateway to the city of Zaragoza that was defended by cannons manned mainly by volunteer Spaniards. The twenty-two-year-old Agustina arrived carrying food for those defending the gate. She saw her comrades being slaughtered, whereupon she clambered on their corpses, loaded a cannon and lit the fuse that blasted the invaders at close range. Inspired by her actions, comrades who had fled the gate returned to fight the enemy, who shortly after gave up the assault.

PLATE 50: ‘Unhappy mother!’ (Madre infeliz!)
Etching, burnished aquatint and drypoint; 155 × 205 mm

Three men carry off a young woman. One of them looks back to the distraught child, emphasising her isolation as she runs after her mother. There is nothing to be done, and her future is bleak with no one to help her. In the background, another woman has collapsed on the ground. Leaning on her arm, she is probably in the final moments of life. The burnished aquatint on the horizon creates a sense of an endless and desolate landscape. It is one of the most moving images in the series.


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Review by jsolovera on 22nd May 2014

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"The quality of the reproduction of the prints is astonishing: expression, depth, volume are faithfully rendered. First-rate binding and paper round up an edition to treasure. Hats off to Folio!"

Review by David142 on 19th May 2014

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"A truly beautiful edition of these prints. I received my copy this afternoon and have been amazed in the quality of the reproduction a great addition to the Van Gogh sketchbooks from last year. The ..." [read more]

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