The Execution MAY 3, 1808
by FRANCISCO JOSE DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES (Spanish School)
THE Duchess of Alba died in 1802-“before her beauty had faded,” Goya
said; his wife died in 1804, exhausted and forlorn; his only surviving son was
The deaf old painter lived on, alone as much as possible, painting
because he could not help it, or because there was nothing better to do. But
his work suffered no decline; in fact, it rose to its highest point in his etchings
and paintings of the horrors of war.
When placed beside the work of Goya,
other paintings of war pale into sentimental studies of cruelty, or trumped-up
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The Spaniard was hardly “the first deliberate opponent of
militarism,” as he has been called-his life indicates that he had little sympathy
with causes or movements-but he loathed the horrors of organized killings,
and when asked why he painted such things, answered curtly,
“To have the
pleasure of saying eternally to men that they stop being barbarians.”
Goya had an insatiable curiosity about life and the energy to indulge it; and
through his own hardships, a far-reaching knowledge of the feelings of the
poor and the cannon fodder.
He saw barbaric scenes and his blood boiled;
and he painted, not the abstract iniquity of war, but the behavior of men and
women in murderous circumstances.
He avoided the scattered action of the
battlefield and confined himself to isolated scenes of butchery.
does he display such mastery of form and movement, such dramatic gestures,
such appalling effects of light and darkness.
In the spring of 1808, he was living in Madrid in the Puerta del Sol when
Napoleon’s mamelukes, under Murat, marched into the city.
It was the second
of May; the nobility stayed within doors and covered their heads, but the
loyalists, the people, practically unarmed, resisted the invaders.
day the bloody reprisals began and the populace was slaughtered at the city
Goya painted the massacre-with a spoon, it is said-and bequeathed
to mankind, not the most tragic or the most touching commentary, but the most
frightening curse ever uttered against the universal evil: a night scene with
a ragged group frozen with the fears of sudden death; men with their hands
sticking up; men hiding their faces; men clenching their fists; dead bodies in
pools of blood-impotent civilians before a firing squad.
A reproduction of
this picture, in color, should be hung in the council chambers of the war lords
of all nations.