One Goya scatters a hundred griefs

The Independent are currently doing something whereby everyday you can get a short biography of an artist and one of their artworks in poster form.

Tuesday saw me picking up said newspaper in curiosity over what they would say about Goya (he of the cartload of apocryphal literature, legend, self promotion, lying, and controversy). The biography was too short to be particularly inflammatory or useful, merely skimming over dates with almost acceptable inaccuracy.

What actually wound me up was the choice of picture.

I must admit I’d braced myself for The Third of May (nothing against it – it’s amazing, unfortunately I’ve been a bit overexposed to the thing these last 6 months) but no, it was The Colossus.

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The Colossus

Interesting as it is, this is one of several paintings roundly denounced as Goya’s by two Goya specialists (one the Goya curator at the Prado, the other Juliet Bareau-Wilson a British Art Historian). The doubts have been met with a denial from the Director of the Prado and further refutations from Nigel Glendinning and (more mildly) Sarah Symons amongst others.

The point remains, however, that The Independent, faced with several hundred unquestionable Goyas, selected one attached to a great deal of controversy and simply stated that is was by Goya.

Part of me feels like it was a missed opportunity – the debate raised interesting issues about the arts (notably those of wilful continued misattribution for financial reward) which are totally ignored by the flat “this is by Goya and it means this” tone. The other part wonders whether they really did much research at all or just plumped for the first picture they saw in a catalogue, or indeed whether it was a joke to be shared with a select few by the writer.

And the worst part? Knowing that it probably only matters to me and that, to me, it *does* matter. Explaining yourself to someone whose eyes are glazing over is never the most edifying experience you can have is it? And that’s increasingly how art history is feeling right now – that whatever I do or say won’t ultimately matter or make a difference to anything or anyone.

Who gives a monkeys about Picasso and the communist party, yet I spent 10,000 words on the subject? Or psychoanalysis and Louise Bourgeois (3000)? Only other art historians, and even then not much. So why does it *still* matter to me?

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