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Meet the New Goya, Same As the Old Goya

By Steven Rosen · December 15th, 2010 · The Big Picture
One of the prize paintings in the Taft Museum of Art’s permanent collection is Francisco Goya’s oil “Portrait of Queen Maria Luisa of Spain,” circa 1800.

It’s the only painting by the Spanish master — one of art’s greatest innovators — in Cincinnati. The face with its powerful gaze, the dark hair holding glittering jewelry and the gauzy and delicate bodice all speak to the confident and astute way Goya could paint members of Spain’s Royal Court. However, the arms look a little odd.

Yet, while it’s been part of the Taft since the museum opened in 1932, officials have had an incredibly difficult time authenticating the painting as a Goya. It’s only been since late 2007/early 2008 that the museum has felt confident to proclaim it a genuine Goya.

[Read Matt Morris' review of the traveling Goya exhibition now at the Taft Museum, Los Caprichos, here.]

“Portrait of Queen Maria Luisa of Spain” was purchased by the museum’s benefactors, Charles Phelps and Anna Sinton Taft, in 1912 under the assumption it was indeed a Goya. And it was attributed to the artist for several decades afterward. But then it was reattributed to the diminished “Follower of Goya.” And so it was for several more decades, until the recent reattribution of it to Goya with assistance from his workshop.

“So with this reattribution, it becomes one of our five to eight most important objects,” Lynne D.

Ambrosini, the museum’s chief curator, says. “It was not considered that even where I came here in 2004.”

It was natural to originally believe this portrait was by Goya, because it seemed apparent that the artist used it as a small (about 32 inches by 26 inches) oil study for the much larger “The Family of Charles IV” at the Prado in Madrid. The Prado also has five similar studies — but without the finished black background of the Taft’s — of other royal family members, and there were historical accounts of another four or five existing.

The finishing wasn’t inherently an issue in questioning authenticity. It was common for a master painter’s assistant to do such work. This could have been done at Goya’s direction to turn a surplus work into a finished and salable oil portrait.

But there was a different problem that Goya scholars began addressing in the last century. The canvas sizes of the Prado’s studies were a little smaller than the Taft’s painting (and also of a similar finished oil of the Queen’s son, the 16-year-old Prince of Asturias, in the Met’s collection).

Because of that, the Taft stopped calling or labeling the painting a Goya. Ambrosini thinks that decision was made sometime in the 1960s. But nobody could figure out who else might have painted it.

Then, in 1995, new evidence emerged. A London-based Goya expert named Juliet Wilson-Bareau discovered a new document, a detailed 1814 inventory, that revealed the oil studies still in the Royal Court’s possession had been cut down from a slightly larger size.

“But whoever was on the staff here didn’t hear about it — it didn’t immediately bear on our painting,” Ambrosini explains. (The Met did reattribute its painting to Goya.)

In late 2007, then-new Taft Director Eric Lee (who since has left) and Ambrosini became interested in the painting’s status and caught up on the new research. The painting and Goya’s name were reunited.

But the Taft definitely wants viewers to know that one of Goya’s assistants also worked on the portrait — including the Queen’s arms. It didn’t have to, Ambrosini says, because that was often standard procedure.

“The only reason we’re not just saying ‘Goya’ and leaving it at that is because the arms are so noticeably clumsy,” she says. “We want people to see that’s not by Goya.”

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com



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