Exhibition | Goya’s Witches and Old Women

Drawing albums were initially a personal craft of many artists, but for the 19th century Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, who became deaf in his late years, playing with chalks, crayons and ink on sketchbook pages proved he was the pinnacle of artistic talent.

After almost 200 years, one of his eight scattered albums The Witches and Old Women has been re-assembled and is on display in the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House until May 25.

Goya’s original paintings had been destroyed or sold, but his descendants managed to collect some of them and pasted Goya’s work onto sheets of pink paper. This exhibition is situated in a room painted in the same shade of pink. While enveloped in the pink walls of the gallery, it offers a feeling of being swaddled by Goya’s small scale work inside a relatively intimate space. Attendees have to stand really close to the precious drawings given the size of each of them is just slightly larger than a palm.

Drawn during his years in exile in France, and in parallel with his depressing Black Paintings in his house, the Witches album consists of 22 pieces of work revealing Goya’s emotions and thoughts on death, darkness, horror and madness. One outstanding example is Mala Mujer (Bad Woman), where an old woman seemingly tries to consume the baby she’s holding.

There is no background in any of the Witches paintings except a white sheet. Nor is there any clue about the figures’ identity and race. With the absence of context, Goya’s grotesque emotional expression, although extreme, can appeal to any person of any background who sees his painting.

“Arresting image” is a rightly-used term that frequently appears on the artworks’ respective labels. Whether it is a floating man pulling another woman’s hair or a lady wearing an evil smile, the lithographic collection definitely conjures bizarre images in many of our heads.

Open 10am to 6pm daily, The Witches and Old Women at the Courtauld Gallery charges £8.50 for adults, £7.50 concessions and £4 for students.

Featured image – Flickr: Lucas