GOYA'S MASTERPIECE DESASTRES DE LA GUERRA: EXTRAORDINARY 1863 FIRST EDITION, SECOND ISSUE, ONE OF ONLY 500 COPIES, COMPLETE WITH 80 ORIGINAL ETCHINGS
GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco José de. Los Desastres de la Guerra: Colección de ochenta láminas inventadas y grabadas al agua fuerte por Don Francisco Goya. Madrid: Real Academia de Nobles Artes de San Fernando, 1863. Total of 80 numbered and titled copperplate etchings done with drypoint, burin, aquatint and lavis, on wove paper with watermark J.G.O. and palmette. Oblong folio (13-1/2 by 10 inches; each image approximately 8 by 6 inches), contemporary three-quarter straight-grain plum morocco gilt, raised bands, marbled boards and endpapers, untrimmed. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $175,000.
First edition, second issue, of "the most brutally savage protest against cruelty and war which the visual imagination of man has conceived"—one of only 500 copies in the first printing. Fine, early impressions, with tonal variations in the lavis that disappear in later editions.
Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1807 and 1808 brought about the abdication of the Bourbon rulers and sparked violent protests against the French. The Madrid uprising of May 2, 1808, marked the start of the armed Spanish resistance, which dragged on in guerilla warfare until 1814. During the war years, Goya vented his horror and outrage at the atrocities committed by soldiers and compatriots alike: "In 80 small, compact images, each etched with acid on copper, Goya told the appalling truth. He aimed a high-power beam on hideous sights: guerillas shot at close range; the ragged remains of mutilated corpses; and the emaciated victims of war's partner famine. Never before had a story of man's inhumanity to man been so compellingly told, every episode reported with the utmost compassion, the human form described with such keen honesty and pitying respect" (Goya in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25-26). "Nothing in art reflects with more terrible emphasis the horrors of war than Goya's Desastres de la Guerra… As a satirist he may be misanthropic and bitter… but in the unflinching courage with which he probes right to the heart of social rottenness he proves himself the true satirist who battles with abuses" (Hind, History of Engraving and Etching, 255-56). "The novelty of Goya's Desastres lies in its rejection of heroism, in its refusal to glorify, idealize or in any way justify the situation of its protagonists" (Tomlinson, Goya, 202). "These nightmare scenes, depicting atrocities committed by both French and Spanish, are the most brutally savage protest against cruelty and war which the visual imagination of man has conceived" (Oxford Dictionary of Art, 215).
The war tore at Goya's several loyalties—as a liberal in favor of the expulsion of the conservative Bourbon rulers, as a patriot abhorring foreign rule, and as an established painter of the court in his 60's hoping to retain his position. Aside from the proofs he made as he worked—of which fewer than 500 have survived to the present day—he made no other impressions of the Desastres prints during his lifetime. Not until 1863, 35 years after his death, was the first of seven posthumous editions of the Desastres published by Spain's Royal Academy. (The second was not run off until 1892.)
Perhaps because Goya did not intend to see Desastres through publication, the series as a whole is somewhat less coherent than the two series of prints Goya issued while alive, Los Caprichos and Tauromaquia. Plates 2-47 depict scenes of war, possibly as witnessed by Goya during his travels to and from Zaragoza in 1808, but most likely from newspaper and other accounts; plates 48-64 record the famine that ravaged Madrid from 1811-12, done shortly thereafter; the remaining 16 images are more fantastic, politically satirical images, which have been variously dated, most likely from circa 1815-17. However, Goya did present to his friend Ceán Bermúdez an album containing working proofs of the 80 Desastres plates (plus five not included in the 1863 edition), united under the manuscript title 'Fatal consequences of the bloody war in Spain with Bonaparte and other emphatic caprices in 85 prints.' The Royal Academy's 1863 edition was the first to unite these images into one series under the title Desastres de la Guerra, and the first to incorporate Goya's handwritten captions, as taken from Bermúdez's album.
As the subjects and themes evolved throughout the creation of Desastres, so did the artist's approach, moving from a highly detailed style to a much less finished technique. "He developed a most striking independence of style, and with it attained to a more typical expression of the sentiment of his country than any other artist, before or since, not excluding Velázquez… Goya's plates are almost entirely bitten, dry-point occasionally being used to strengthen the etched lines. He constantly uses the combination of an aquatint grain with his line, and he still stands as one of the greatest virtuosi of an art which had only been introduced a few years before his work commenced" (Hind, 252).
This work is most scarce and extremely difficult to obtain, as over the years copies have found their way to museums or to print dealers. This is a second-issue copy of the first printing, with corrections to the captions of plates 9, 32-36, 39 and 47. Harris Ib. Owner signature on front flyleaf (blank, laid in loose).
Light rubbing to sound and attractive contemporary morocco-gilt binding. Plates fine. An excellent copy of this rarity, with clean, sharp impressions.