Francisco Goya – A Bad Night (1797 – 1799)

After a mysterious illness led to the loss of his hearing in 1792, Francisco Goya’s art became darker and more anchored in the grim realities of everyday life. It took the Spaniard a few years to fully return to etching and painting, time during which he started experimenting with different styles.

It was during those years that Goya produced his remarkable series of 80 etchings and aquatints titled The Caprices (Los Caprichos). The prints satirize the evils of Spanish society, calling out the greed of the clergy and the aristocracy, the ignorance of the masses enslaved by superstitions and the overall lack of mores. The genius of Goya comes from his masterful use of fantasy to reflect on the harsh reality of life. The Spaniard wasn’t praising reason by offering an appeal to objectivity and order, he was depicting a world in decay, overwhelmed with demons, dark creatures and superstitions. His warning – The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – is his most famous print and you might still come across it today in different contexts to explain the rise of populism, terrorism and other unbound visions.

Francisco Goya - A Bad Night
Francisco Goya – A Bad Night (1797 -1799), etching and burnished aquatint

A Bad Night (Mala Noche), also part of the series as caprice no. 36, is more subtle in its social commentary. Based on the visuals before you, you might believe its message is that girls shouldn’t go out at night, for they might face stormy weather. The Spaniard has indeed achieved a dramatic effect with the billowing clothes of the two women that he depicts. The emphasis is on the woman to the right who almost looks beheaded, as her head is fully covered by her shawl. The strong wind has also lifted up her dress, revealing her stockings and undergarments.

As it turns out, in this etching Goya is subtly portraying two prostitutes, understanding that windy nights are terrible for business. Who would want to pay for what they can look at for free?

8 thoughts on “Francisco Goya – A Bad Night (1797 – 1799)

      1. be prepared to get there early for a entrance ticket unless you can get one on-line or in advance. I spent over 6 hours just wandering thru it. it has simply amazing pieces of work so you can’t rush thru. you also cannot take pictures. it was easy enough to find and the busses were easy to use. I really wish that I spoke enough Spanish to get around or get in trouble with the Spanish ladies. I hd a wonderful time in Madrid.

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  1. “His warning – The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – is his most famous print and you might still come across it today in different contexts to explain the rise of populism, terrorism and other unbound visions.”

    And yet, I like the idea of “the sleep of reason” and “unbound visions”, as reasons has a certain linguistic tyranny over the imagination. There’s the irrational, which is a big problem, and then there’s the a-rational, or non-rational, which is just outside of it. Much as I love reason, ’tis a bit rigid, and a product of the human intellect. Reality can’t be encompassed by the intellect, and so there’s all sorts of other cognition that can occur outside its confines. Perhaps reason is an ideal employee, but an incomplete boss (much better though, than superstition, ideology, dogma, etc.).

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    1. Mmm, I like the idea of “a-rational/non-rational” as another way to experience the world. Reality is subjective anyway. Goya was making an appeal to couple our imagination with our reason, but because in Spanish sueño means both sleep and dream, some say he could have been criticizing the Enlightenment. The fantastic world he built and the fact that he offers no hope for how to deal with its darkness is seen by some as a rebuttal of Neoclassicism.

      I personally think it means sleep of reason. And the hope he offers might be art, as Goya puts it in the annotation: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

      Now, these days I think “reason” – as defined by hard data and science – is often used in very self-serving ways, fueling the fantasy and confirming biases. Politicians, activists, influencers, marketers, even scientists themselves might cite obscure, unverified data and anecdotal evidence to forward their agendas. Those well-read fanatics are the most difficult to deal with.

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  2. Goya is all kinds of incredible. I keep encountering his paintings in many books that I read.
    The last stanza in your write up, what a twist in the tale. Damn!
    Good luck with your Madrid Trip.
    Prado is out of this world. 👌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rahul. What a twist indeed! I was drawn to the print as it was, thinking to myself “oh, that’s a bad night alright”, but the social implications of the time only made it more dramatic.

      Liked by 1 person

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