Muchachos al avío [Lads Making Ready], plate 11 from Los Caprichos
1797-1799 (p. 1890-1900)
34.15 cm x 24.1 cm (13 7/16 in. x 9 1/2 in.)
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (aka Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes)
(Fuendetodos, Spain, 1746 - 1828, Bordeaux, France)
Medium and Support:
Etching, burnished aquatint and burin
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of the children of L.M. Tonkin, 1966
The earliest of Goya’s four major print series by more than decade, the Caprichos were created in 1797-98. Free inventions, thus “caprices,” their eighty plates comment upon the tension betweensociety and the individual, between ideals and realities, between belief and reason. Injustice, hypocrisy, and superstition are Goya’s principal targets; caricature, satire, and sarcasm his favorite weapons. In addition to the printed titles, a manuscript in the Prado Museum purportedly written by Goya elucidates the meaning of individual prints. The imagery of the Caprichos is rich with references, from established iconography to folk literature, songs, and sayings. But the series is above all original in the modern sense: the product of an individual and unfettered imagination. The Caprichos are also the first great demonstration of the expressive possibilities of aquatint, which had previously been used for reproducing the appearance of drawings. First published in 1799 they along with the Tauromaquia were the only series released during the artist’s lifetime. Retaining the plates, the Royal Academy in Madrid issued eleven more editions between 1855 and 1937, making the Caprichos the most widely circulated and best known of Goya’s prints.
A group of youths slouch in a stark landscape. The inscription “wild merchants” on a preparatory drawing in the Prado Museum suggests that they are smugglers. Goya’s commentary is simpler: “Their faces and their clothes make it clear what they are.” Unfortunately, the areas of aquatint have become worn in this impression, lightening the night sky and the shadows, diminishing the print’s sense of menace.