The Thyssen in Malaga looks into the abysses of Goya and Ensor

The Thyssen in Malaga looks into the abysses of Goya and Ensor
  • The display highlights the social criticism of both artists through their prints. The museum is showing 40 prints by Goya and a dozen by Ensor in a combination which has never been seen before

A meeting between mocking, grotesque beings seated at the table in 'The Good Judges' (1894). A crowd of deformed faces appears in 'The entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889' (1898). Neither god nor motherland nor puppets with heads feature in the prints by James Ensor. The deformities he depicts are very similar to those of a century earlier, in 'La Lealtad', 'La lealtad', 'Porque esconderlos' and 'Duendecitos', some of the 'Disparates' of Francisco de Goya.

Artists separated by time but very united in social criticism, especially in their graphic works. This 'crossing of minds' has never been seen before but it is now taking place at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga in an exhibition which is small but has great substance and impact.

The Sala Noble in this museum in Malaga city contains 40 prints by the artist from Aragón and 12 by the Belgian creator in a display which places before the spectator the bravery of both men in the face of political and ecclesiastical censure.

“Both Goya and Ensor showed their souls in graphic work. In the case of Goya, for example, there is a great difference between his work as a chamber artist at Court and these prints which are filled with social criticism,” said the artistic director of the Thyssen Museum this week, Lourdes Moreno, at the presentation of the exhibition which continues until 28 January.

She also pointed out the novelty of this exhibition in relating the works of Goya and Ensor. The link is the ferocious social criticism of both artists, one in the 18th century and the other in the 19th and 20th. “They were both also part of the group of artists who expressed their unrest,” she explained, about an exhibition in which the works are sombre and macabre but luminous in terms of formal and intellectual relations between the two artists.

These communicating links are evident in a display which puts the works by both artists alongside each other. There are the 'Masks (The mocking death)' (1922) by Ensor , with 'Folly of Fear' and 'Disparate cruel' (1816-1819). The same contorted faces, the same social background under the sinister caricatures, the same fleshless view of man and society, the same defeat of reason faced with superstition, the same debacle of solidarity against moral plunder.

Didactic postcards

These works were also planned as didactic postcards, in the same way Goya claimed for his 'Caprichos' and 'Disparates'. The exhibition, includes works by Goya from the Fine Arts Museum in Cordoba and is sponsored by the Daniel Pastor Abodagos law firm.

Lourdes Moreno also stressed the pioneering character of Goya's work in the formal aspect, because he worked with nitric acid and aquatint first and then retouched it with a burin, which was an unusual technique.

“Goya achieved a nocturnal ambience in the scenes by using aquatint, a technique with which he modernised the etching procedure and which enabled him to suggest dark scenes and mysterious atmospheres, where nightmares come to life and fill the mind of man with fear,” she explained.

And there are more mirrors. 'Modo de volar' by Goya together with 'Christ tormented by demons' (1895) and 'The exterminating angel' (1889).

“Because of their rawness, the etchings by Francisco de Goya and James Ensor are still able to move and surprise the spectator today. And as a display, this innovation of the sombre world of dreams by both artists, with their indisputable mastery of printing, shows a powerful skill in drawing and technique, which few other artists were able to achieve,” said Lourdes.