This etching by Francisco José Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), titled Foolish Extravagance, is part of series titled Los Disparates (The Follies) from 1815/16–1823/24. Completed by an artist who lived through the oppressive Spanish Inquisition, among other sociopolitical events, each print from the series variously address themes of foolishness, misrepresentation, abuse of power, and fear.
Disparates was published posthumously in 1864 by The Royal Academy of San Fernando, from the 18 (of 22) plates in their possession. When The Royal Academy first produced this edition, they did so under the title Los Proverbios, sending scholars on a quest to match the prints with their respective proverbs. Later proofs by the artist—with handwritten titles beginning with the word “disparates”—shifted their meaning: these images were not illustrative of proverbs, but rather of follies. In the time since, the series has evaded clear interpretation, and “any promise of clear symbolic meaning that these things might offer is empty.”
In Foolish Extravagance, four
bulls twist, jerk, and careen one on top of another, seemingly free-falling against
an amorphous black background. Offering little information, this black void
heightens the sense of disorientation and absurdity that the image conveys.
Lacking any rationalism that would be signaled by a horizon line, or other
compositional cues, this and other etchings from Los Disparates evidence an absence of reason and coherent meaning.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate
Image: Foolish Extravagance, 1815, Francisco José Goya y Lucientes, aquatint and etching, 8 5/16 x 12 3/4 in., Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection, 35.133
This etching, Mending the Tears, by Winslow Homer is often celebrated for its quiet dignity, beauty, and composition. Scholars look to, for example, “the strong but simple modeling of the two girls, the boldness of their silhouettes against the misty background, and the play of the erect girl’s posture against that of the bent-over mender,” and “the relaxed crossing of feet or the curl of hair casually freeing itself from the formality of a bun,” as examples of Homer’s mastery.
Homer is rightly renowned for his contributions to American painting and printmaking, but less addressed in the scholarship surrounding this work are the actions of the depicted women—mending a net and darning a sock—from which the title bears its name. Once we consider the date of Mending the Tears, made during the middle of the women’s suffrage movement in 1888, this romanticized image of women doing domestic work takes on different meaning.
The women’s suffrage movement, which began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is inextricable from the history of women’s labor in the United States. At the time, many working class women, enduring 14-hour shifts in garment factories and textile mills, would participate in the kind of work pictured in Mending the Tears, albeit on a much larger scale and in less picturesque settings. However, as early as 1844, women activists were speaking out against the working conditions of these workplaces: women working in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA); in 1866, shoe stitchers formed the first national women’s labor union, the Daughters of St. Crispin; and, that same year, newly freed black women in Jackson, Mississippi also formed a union demanding higher wages, The Washerwomen of Jackson. The list of such accomplishments, driven by women workers across the country, goes on.
The labor movement was largely inspired by the republican values of a just society, social equality, and virtuous labor, as well as the socialist theories of David Ricardo. Mending the Tears, based on a watercolor made by Homer in 1882 while in England, beautifully captures one version of 19th-century life—and the role of women within it—but it is an idyllic one, and one at odds with much of the social and political changes taking place in the United States during the late 19th century.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
 Philip C. Beam, Winslow Homer at Prouts Neck (Lanham, Maryland: Down East Books, 1966), 58; Doug Gruse, “‘Impressions’ of a master,” The Post-Star, October 5, 2008.
Images: Mending the Tears, 1888, Winslow Homer, etching, 17 3/4 x 22 7/8 in., Josephine and Windsor Utley Purchase Fund, 98.21. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Women strikers in the early 19th century.
This huge exhibition showcasing over 400 print works created across 500 years closes August 28. That means, you’ve got one more Press & Print: Drop-in Studio where you can experiment with the techniques you see in the exhibition. Also, coming up is the final My Favorite Things tour of the exhibition with Jessixa Bagley.
A variation of the etching process, aquatint allows for areas of printed tone in order to achieve a more painterly effect. Instead of a uniformly brushed on ground, powdered rosin is dusted onto the plate until the desired coverage is achieved. The acid eats away the unprotected portions of the plate between the rosin particles, resulting in a rich, speckled effect.
Goya used aquatint to create a dank, gloomy prison cell that mirrors the despair of this unfortunate young lady.
IMAGES: Illustrations: Tim Marsden. Los Caprichos: Por que fue sensible. (Because she was susceptible.), 1796–1797, Francisco Goya, Spanish, 1746–1828, aquatint, 8 7/16 × 6 in., Private Collection.
August is the final month of Graphic Masters, which means you’ve only got three more Press & Print: Drop-In Studio events left to learn the printmaking techniques of the masters! Here’s your weekly primer on etching, a type of intaglio printing that Rembrandt uses in combination with drypoint in Christ Healing the Sick. Come to SAM and see.
Instead of removing metal from the plate through force, etching uses a chemical process. The plate is prepared by brushing on a thin layer of waxy, acid-resistant covering called ground. The design is scratched through the ground, revealing the plate below. Compared to engraving, very little pressure is needed, allowing for fluid lines more akin to drawing. The entire plate is then submerged in acid, which etches, or bites, the exposed metal. Once the desired effect has been reached, the plate is removed from the acid bath and the ground cleaned off. It is then inked and printed through the same process as engraving.
The depth of an etched line is determined by how long the plate is submerged in acid. To achieve dramatic tonal variations, Rembrandt removed the plate from the acid and applied more ground to protect the lighter areas before submerging the plate again—a process called stopping out.
Images: Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 1643, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669, etching and drypoint, 11 1/8 × 15 1/4 in., Private Collection. Illustrations: Tim Marsden
We are honored to present an important recent gift to the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library: Late Caprichos of Goya: Fragments from a Series (New York: Walker & Co., in association with the Department of Print and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, 1971). This limited edition illustrated book, with photomechanical lithograph reproductions and six original etchings, was donated in 2015 by Stuart and Beverly Denenberg.
Why is this work on Francisco José Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828), published in the 1970s, so special? In short: exceptional scholarship in a beautifully-produced volume, containing extremely rare prints. Written and compiled by Eleanor A. Sayre (American, 1916-2001), one of the first female curators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this work has been described as “a book of exceptional quality . . . and importance.” The Late Caprichos of Goya: Fragments from a Series was published in an edition of 150 copies, with the Bullitt Library’s copy being number 79. It is the only known publicly-accessible copy in the Pacific Northwest.
The rare prints that are included in this work were created from three double-sided copper plates Goya made in the 1820s. Thirty years after Goya’s death, the plates were purchased in Spain by an English diplomat, John Savile Lumley (British, 1818-1896), from Goya’s grandson. They eventually made their way to the London firm of P. & D. Colnaghi where they lay in a drawer for over a decade, until they were bought by Harvard librarian and print scholar, Philip Hofer (American, 1898-1984), in the 1930s—notice the PH embossed in each print at lower right.
In the 18th century, according to the Royal Spanish Academy Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid 1791), the word, “capricho” meant “In works of poetry, music, and painting, it is that which is done by the power of invention rather than by adherence to rules of art. It is also called fantasy.”
Goya completed these caprichos in 1825, a quarter century after the original series of 1799. Those earlier prints can be read as political and clerical critiques, and made Goya an important moralist to those contemporaries who truly understood their meaning. Goya published the original series during the reign of Carlos IV, hoping that enlightened men and women would see and heed his criticisms, and that some public good might result from the work. For this later series, which is believed to be only the fragmentary beginning, there are—unlike the original series—no titles or details which may have caused trouble. In her commentary, Sayre wonders: “We shall probably never know how great a risk the old artist intended to take.” He was then 80 years old and died three years later.
To see the book and these late caprichos in person, visit the Lockwood Foundation Living Room, just inside the exhibition. While there, take time to peruse some of the great resources selected by the SAM Librarians in the pop-up library.