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.
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?