The exhibition I am choosing to write about is The Disasters of War (Los Disasters de la Guerra) by Francisco Goya.
The exhibition was held in The Chester Beatty Library and ran between the 6th of October 2017 until the 21st of January 2018.The main theme of the disasters of war exhibition was warfare, this theme has been showed a lot in 2017 in the build-up to the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One in November 2018. Some examples are The Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death and War exhibition showing the prints of the German artist with prints like The Survivors (see fig1) in the national gallery which ran until the 10th of December.
This was then replaced by Aftermath: The War Landscapes of William Orpen.In my review, I am going to compare the experiences I had at both The disasters of war exhibition and Aftermath: The war landscapes of William Orpen. I am going to show the difference in the depictions of war, and the techniques they used to show the disasters they witnessed. Goya was born in Fuendetodos, Spain. He began his artistic career at the young age of fourteen, within the history of western art he is now considered an old master as well as one of the first truly modern artists.
Goya was a master printmaker and was very successful in using both etching and aquatint techniques. He is credited with creating four major print portfolios, one of which is the disasters of war I am going to review. The disasters of war show the guerrilla warfare that took place between theFrench soldiers and Spanish resistance after Napoleon invaded France. The series can be broken down into three sections, the first showing the brutality of warfare that is taking place. The second depicts the famine that happened in Madrid during the winter of 1811-12, in which over 20,000 people perished.
In the third series, the content takes on a dream-like state,, that shows the impact on society as a consequence of war. In some of the etchings, it is impossible to determine who is killing who, I believe Goya used this to show that there were atrocities happening on both sides.This warfare started over the killing of a French solider in Madrid, this was later depicted by Goya in the painting the Second of May 1808 (see fig2), which was painted in 1814.
Goya also painted the Third of May 1808 (see fig3) which shows the brutal consequences that resulted from the killing of the French soldier.The whole collection consists of 80 etchings, 40 of which were on show in this exhibition. I believe their reason for not showing the full collection was due to the limited space available at the Chester Beatty Library. As you walk across the brightly lit balcony, you emerge into a dark room, with no natural light. After my eyes adjusted, the first thing I notice is the dark maroon coloured walls, this matched with the dark lighting, which is used to preserve the etching’s, works well to set the tone for the dark and grotesque content you are about to witness in these etchings. All of the images are framed the same with even spacing between them all.
The only other thing in the room is two wooden benches in the middle of the floor. This is in complete contrast to the Orpen exhibition, the exhibition was a lot smaller then I expected. It seemed hidden away, like it was like you had to search it out to view, instead of stumbling across it. I wonder if this is due to the content that is being shown in the paintings. One huge difference between both exhibitions was the lighting used, in the Orpen exhibition the lighting did not match the content.
This for me changed the emotional response to viewing both exhibitions and, in my opinion, made them completely different experiences just because of the way the exhibitions are set up and laid out. With the Goya exhibition, the mood was set straight away as you walked into the room, the dark lighting and the dark coloured walls matched the content that was represented the etchings. I felt that the Orpen exhibition was extremely small and it felt overcrowded because the middle of the floor contained two cabinets with sketch’s and books that related to the artwork being shown but I felt were unnecessary with such a small space. Also on show in the middle was armor that a German sniper would wear. This is a relatively new movement to include items other than masterpieces in a gallery exhibition, they also had this in the Burton exhibition which was also held in the National Gallery. For me I was glad that nothing but the prints were included in the Goya exhibition as I feel like it would have distracted from the artwork, in my opinion, the Goya exhibition was rawer, and you were kept focused on the artwork, there was nothing to distract you and you were able to view these prints one after another, which I feel is how they were meant to be viewed, it allows for an emotional response to the artwork as you don’t get a break between them.
The theme of war is huge in both exhibitions, one focusing on the guerrilla warfare between the French and Spanish and the other painted 100 years after focusing on the Great War between a number of nations. Both show horrific content, but take different approaches to show the same thing, the horrors of war. Goya restricted himself to only using etchings to depict what he was seeing, Orpen on the other hand mainly used oil on canvas but did also experiment with ink, graphite and watercolours for some of the artworks. Goya’s etchings are in black and white, which is all he needed to show the grotesque content and I feel it adds to it, as you are focused on what is happening in the piece, as I believe this is what Goya wanted, it was more about reporting what he was seeing, bright colours might have distracted unnecessarily from what is happening. Comparing this to Orpen you can’t help but notice the bright colours, along with the lighting in the gallery space, it does not feel like you are viewing the same theme of war as you are in the Goya exhibition. Unlike Orpen, Goya was not commissioned to create these pieces, part of me thinks that Goya was not planning on showing these pieces, he might have been using them as studies for later paintings like the second of may 1808 and the third of may 1808. This is also a bit obvious when you take into account that the prints were not fully published until 1863, which was 45 years after Goya’s death.
This was more than likely done to protect Goya, and for his safety due to the political views expressed in the artwork. This is in contrast to Orpen who was hired as a war artist, whose job it was to create artwork of the disasters he saw, to be viewed by the public. Even tho both artists art depicting scenes of war, they are showing different aspects. Goya etchings are done by someone who was there and witnessed these scenes of murder, torture, and rape.
Orpen was not directly involved in or near any of the fighting, he paintings are of the aftermath, the broken landscape that would never be the same again. In Orpen’s paintings, it seems to me that the bodies of dead soldiers nearly take a backseat to the landscapes behind them, for example, Thiepval which is an oil on canvas, the true horror of the dead soldiers I feel is nearly hidden behind the beautifully painted landscape. Unlike Goya’s etchings, there is something that distracts you from the horrific content, like these landscapes. I feel this was done because he knew that these images were going to be viewed by the public and I think this might have affected what he wanted to show. This is opposite to Goya, there is great detail in these small prints when compared to the size of Orpen’s paintings, Goya does not include anything to distract you from the horrific content contained in these etchings, for example Here Neither, print no.
36. Goya places the hanged man right in the centre foreground of the image, in the background we only see fragments of the landscape with bodies hanging from them, the uniformed French solider leans back on the right hand side, showing no emotion to what has been done, he neither looks pleased or upset with what has happened, you have to wonder if he like Goya is questioning why this is happening and what purpose does it have There is nothing to distract you and this allows you to take in the full impact of what you are witnessing.One of the prints that I think was missed from the exhibition of the disasters of war was No.35 One cant tell why, it is the previous plate to Here Neither, these two titles work together, One Can’t Tell Why, Here Neither. Which links the two images, and shows how these pieces were given ironic titles, to somehow intensify the horrific scenes shown.
I think this was one of the flaws with the Goya exhibition, the space required to show the whole collection was not available to the Chester Beatty library and as a result, the viewer might have missed out on not being able to view the series in its entirety. Goya’s prints had a huge effect on the history of art, it was something new, since the Greeks and the Romans, even as far back as the Egyptians, artworks have always been used to glorify the victors. This is not done in Goya’s etchings, there are no victories to be seen in these prints. The etching no.
7 What Courage, which appears to show the only bit of heroism contained in all the prints on show. It is of a woman, standing on the body of her falling allies, to fire a cannon. In Orpen’s paintings we don’t get a sense of victory either, but the only way they would have been ever shown to the public was on the back of a victory in the war.The importance of these exhibitions is because of the threat we currently see all over social media of another war, these etching should be taken as a warning, and I believe this is the perfect time for them to be shown. There is also the centennial celebration in 2018 for the end of World War One, which was the focus for Orpen’s war landscapes. I thoroughly preferred the Goya exhibition, for one I felt the layout and the lighting all the way down to the colour of the walls, effected the emotional response when you viewed the disasters of war. I did not feel the same emotion when I viewed Orpen’s war landscapes, I believe it was down to the distractions I mentioned, the effect of seeing the dead soldiers did not dawn on me as much as when I was viewing Goya’s etchings.
I felt the Orpen exhibition overcrowded the space, whereas the Goya exhibition used it as best as they could, even though they could only show half of the series. While I did enjoy both exhibitions, I would prefer to view the Goya exhibition again, because I felt everything worked so well together. I do personally prefer the etching techniques used by Goya, and I like the clean lines and shading that are shown throughout the collection. In this review I wanted to compare two artists who both showed horrible scenes through there artwork, my goal was to use Orpen’s war landscapes to show just how much darker Goya’s etchings were and to compare the emotional experience that I had when I visited both exhibitions.
I felt that the Goya exhibition made my experience more emotional, § it also gave me a greater sense of dread and worry for what the future holds, especially in uncertain times with tensions around the world rising, we should take Goya’s etchings as a warning and not let anything like that happen again.