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.
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’
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.
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.