Maud Lewis, 1903–1970

August 24, 2017 by richard

Maud Lewis 1903-1970

Maud Lewis

Lewis was born on 7 March 1903 in South Ohio , a small village in the province of Nova Scotia in the east of Canada, as a daughter of John and Agnes Dowley. She suffered early on disabilities of arms and hands as a result of rheumatoid arthritis , which she had had as a child.

On 16 January 1938 she married the hawker Everett Lewis. The couple was destitute and lived in a small house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, without heating and electricity. Soon after the marriage, Maud Lewis accompanied her husband on his daily rounds, selling fish from door to door. This is how her artistic career began, as she drew Christmas cards , which were very popular among her husband’s customers. After some sales success, she encouraged her husband to paint and bought oil paints for the first time . Despite her physical limitations, she now painted small, colorful paintings to enhance her livelihood.

In the last year of her life, Lewis’s condition worsened, but she painted as often as she could, even during the trips to the hospital.

She died on July 30, 1970 in Digby , Nova Scotia. Her husband was murdered nine years later by burglars.

Your two-bedroom house has been renovated and is now exhibited at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax . At its original location, a monument of steel was erected which reproduces the house.

1974_16_deerlewis-oxen-springtime 1967Maud Lewis Ben Lowman HarbourSkiing and Sleddging Maud Lewisrv-maud lewis-carriagedog0414rv1


Maud Lewis’ pictures are quite small, usually only 20 to 25 centimeters large, their largest picture measures 90 centimeters. The paintings show outdoor scenes with people and domestic animals and wild animals such as horses, cats and birds. Maud’s painting technique was to remove the colors directly and unmixed from the tube, so that they appear bright and bright and the surfaces are clearly delimited. She used all sorts of materials, including wooden boards and baking sheets . Even the walls of her house painted them to the last corner.

From 1945 to 1950 their paintings sold for two to three dollars. Only in the last three, four years of her life did Lewis get seven to ten dollars per painting. In 1964, she received national attention for the first time through an article in “Star Weekly” and a year later she was presented in a documentary film by CBC Television . The selling price of her works has been rising steadily since the last years. Two of her paintings were sold for more than $ 16,000. The highest selling price so far was “A Family Outing” with $ 22,200 at an auction in Toronto in 2009.

The Joyous World of Overlooked Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis



JUN 16TH, 2017 3:47 PM

Maud Lewis in front of her house, 1961. Photo by Cora Greenaway. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis spent 32 years of her life in a one-room house on a secluded dirt road in Nova Scotia. By the time of her death in 1970, she’d covered nearly every surface of the little home with joyous paintings: Clusters of tulips filled the windows, birds and butterflies fluttered across the door. Even the dustpan was covered with daisies.

“I paint all from memory, I don’t copy much,” Lewis says, smiling wide, in a 1965 television documentary about her life and work. “Because I don’t go nowhere, I just make my own designs up.”

Lewis is a cult figure in Canada. And the idiosyncratic painter’s reputation should be cemented beyond her native country with Maudie, a biopic released today starring Sally Hawkins in the title role, with Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. The film, directed by British filmmaker Aisling Walsh and written by Canadian screenwriter Sherry White, focuses on Lewis’s resilience as an artist, despite hardships.

Maud Lewis, Oxen in Spring, ca. 1960s. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

During the last five years of her life, a steady stream of locals and tourists—intrigued by Lewis’s paintings, as well as her buoyant spirit and reclusive lifestyle—came knocking at the door of the home she shared with her husband, fish peddler Everett. They bought Lewis’s colorful scenes of Nova Scotia life for five dollars a pop. Recently, 47 years after Lewis’s death, her celebrity—and, in step, the prices of her paintings—have swelled. This May, one of her works, discovered in a thrift shop, sold for over $45,000 at auction.

Lewis was born in 1903 in the small, seaside town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. At a young age, she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis that left her with a pained and crooked gait. Confined largely to her parents’ home, she began to draw. “I used to paint with Crayolas a lot. Kind of practicing up, I suppose,” Lewis laughs in the 1965 documentary.

Maud Lewis, Maud Lewis House. Photo by Steve Farmer. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

After her parents died when she was in her early thirties, Lewis went to live with an aunt. Not long after, she answered an ad from a local fishmonger—Everett Lewis. He was looking for woman to help around the house. Several weeks later, they were married.

The exact timeline is fuzzy, but at some point after she moved into Everett’s home, she began painting on its wooden surfaces. She’d travel into town with Everett and sell unique handpainted Christmas cards, and then moved on to larger surfaces: boards cut by her husband.

Lewis’s paintings show scenes she glimpsed through her little home’s window, and memories from childhood or her infrequent trips to town. There are oxen decorated with bells and flanked by trees exploding with pink blossoms; carriages filled with brightly outfitted people, trailed by bounding dogs; seagulls soaring over placid seaside landscapes. And then there are the fan favorites: wide-eyed cats lounging in tulip fields.

Maud Lewis, Three black cats, 1955. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Maud Lewis, Coastal Scene with Gulls, 1960s. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Claire Stenning, an art dealer and early supporter, describes her sense of Lewis’s compositions in the 1965 documentary. They have a “childlike, tremendous feeling,” she said. “No shadows at all. Everything is happy and gay and quick and lively.”

The joyousness of Lewis’s paintings may be surprising given the difficulties she faced. As a child, she was made fun of for her arthritis, which worsened over the course of her life, gnarling her body and hands.

Her husband Everett, by most accounts, was no picnic either. In the documentary, we get a glimpse of their dynamic: A tall, toothless Everett grumbles about Maud’s free spirit, at one point carping that he receives more kisses from his dogs than from his wife.

Maud Lewis, Maud Lewis House. Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Photo by Steve Farmer. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

And while Maud ended up becoming the primary breadwinner after word of her talents spread, Everett “still found room to complain that he did the chores,” says Shannon Parker, Curator of Collections at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which owns 55 of Lewis’s works, including her greatest achievement: her own home. Lewis continued painting her happy scenes and retained her unflappably positive outlook until her death, in 1970. The property was moved from its original location in the 1980s, and is on display at the museum in Nova Scotia, the best evidence of her exuberant style and spirit.

“Visitors are so impressed that someone could live for over 30 years in such a small space,” says Parker. “And also that she produced such amazing, cheerful artwork that could have otherwise been very depressing considering the difficult life she led.”

Poster for Film maudie

Disability Arts movement in UK

by admin

Four animations produced by the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive in collaboration with UKDHM.

The Social Model


The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive


Portraiture & Representation


The Disability Arts Movement: Arts & Activism infused


Materials to do educational work around the NDACA Animations

Social Model Activity p1

Social Model Activity p2

The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive Activity

Portraiture & Representation Activity

The Disability Arts Movement Activity

Artist Profiles

Tony Heaton

Tanya Raabe Webber

Paddy Masefield

Nancy Willis

Julie McNamara

Jane Campbell

Ian Stanton

David Hevey

Dave Lupton

Allan Sutherland

Alan Holdsworth

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864–1901

August 23, 2017 by richard

By John David Ike, MD Candidate, Emory University School of Medicine

see also

PDF-iconCount Henri Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa, more commonly known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), was a French-born artist renowned for his depictions of the bohemian life in Montmartre in fin-de-siècle Paris. Born into a noble family in the south of France, Lautrec was the last of a bloodline who claimed descent from Henry IV of England and blood-relation to Charlemagne, the former Holy Roman Emperor of France.1 While Lautrec’s childhood was marked by social and financial wealth and good fortune, in early adolescence he suffered two significant fractures of his left and right femurs in quick succession. Following these injuries, Lautrec’s growth was significantly stunted, leaving him permanently disfigured, crippled, and unable to participate in the bourgeois activities his family enjoyed, namely hunting and horseback riding. As a result, Lautrec turned to the arts, eventually becoming one of the most important documentarians of late 19th century in Paris working alongside Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh. Perhaps his most significant contributions were his original and iconic lithograph posters for various dancehalls throughout Montmartre, and his intimate oil paintings of the working-class prostitutes and the aristocrats who frequented these lively venues.




The underlying pathology of Lautrec’s fractures has been highly debated among scientists and medical professionals. After numerous discredited diagnostic proposals and without post-humous genetic testing, the current accepted theory proposed by Maroteau and Lamy in 1962 is that Lautrec suffered from pycnodysostosis, a rare autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease of the bone associated with short stature despite normal truncal height, pathologic bone fractures, a hypoplastic mandible, a deformed cranium, and a range of other abnormalities.2 These clinical features align with Lautrec’s known physical attributes, most notably his disproportionate short stature, his receding mandible (which he attempted to hide with facial hair), and his cranial deformities.1,2 Several of these features are visible in a photograph of Lautrec painting en plein aire – a technique championed by the Impressionists – at his neighbor’s house in Montmartre in 1892 (Fig. 1).

Lautrec’s physical limitations had a significant impact on his internal psyche. Lautrec first mentions his disability in a letter to his mother when seeking medical treatment in Paris in 1875 at the age of eleven: “Dr. Vernier was very satisfied with my legs. When you return, I hope you will find me well.”1 It is important to note that this letter was written prior to his devastating fractures. Nevertheless, the effect of his disease on his internal emotional state prior to his fractures is palpable in a letter written by Lautrec’s grandmother around the same time: “The humidity doesn’t particularly trouble Henri, and now that the weather is so mild, he can go for long rides … with such a high spirited fellow around, how could we persist being so gloomy?”1  While Lautrec’s spirits and intellect remained vibrant throughout his life and working career, his poor health resulted in a significant blow to his morale. In a private letter to a friend during a prolonged period of bedrest, Lautrec wrote the following about his cousin, “I began to wonder whether Jeanne d’Armagnac will come and sit by my bed. She does come sometimes and I listen to her but lack to courage to look at her, who is so beautiful and tall, and as for myself – I am neither of these.” 1 Despite his disability, Lautrec feverously pursued his art, moving to Paris in 1882 at the age of eighteen to begin his formal training.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, and with future hopes to join the famed École des Beaux-Arts, Lautrec continued his study under Rene Princeteau, a portrait painter who began tutoring Lautrec in the early-to-mid 1870s. Princeteau, who was partly deaf and mute, fortified Lautrec’s love of horses with frequent trips to the circus where they concentrated on draftsmanship and the portrayal of horses in motion.2 Evidence of these trips can be seen much later in his career in two sketches: The Jockey and At the Circus: The Spanish Walk (Fig 2, Fig 3)Both works pay homage to Lautrec’s continued admiration for his former teacher and illustrate his technical skill as a draftsman. Yet, Lautrec quickly realized that Princeteau’s instruction was insufficient and he transferred to Léon Bonnat’s studio, and shortly thereafter to Fernand Cormon’s atelier. An easy-going artist, Cormon’s atelier provided Lautrec and his pupils (which included Emile Bernard) with a club-like atmosphere to explore their artistic interests. It was during this time that Lautrec befriended Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.




Degas’ work had a profound impact on Lautrec’s artistic vision. Like Degas, Lautrec focused on the female form and the intimacies of the feminine toilette. Moreover, Lautrec’s friendship with van Gogh – that between a physically disabled young aristocrat who favored brothels and the emotionally unstable son of a Dutch pastor who also frequented cafés – further solidified Lautrec’s appreciation for vivid color and the Japanese print, which utilized geometric shapes and flat areas of color to portray its subjects. By 1886, a time when many artists in Cormon’s studio and contemporaries were leaving Paris (Gauguin and Bernard traveled to Britanny and van Gogh traveled to Arles), Lautrec remained and acquired his own studio on Rue de Caulaincort in Montmartre. Within a few years, Lautrec’s lithographs and oils, inspired by the eclectic culture and nightlife of Montmartre, rocketed him to stardom in the Paris art scene.

Situated on a hill on the outskirts of Paris, Montmartre began as a rural village dotted with windmills that over the course of the 19th century was annexed by the city of Paris and became a preeminent working class neighborhood.3 Retaining its narrow and winding streets, steep elevation, and historic charm, Montmartre was divided into two separate districts – the lower slopes which were inhabited by wealthy artists (Degas, Moreau, Renoir) and aristocrats, and an upper “butte” inhabited by working-class Parisians and bohemians.3 The Moulin Rouge dancehall, which opened in 1889 and was situated at the intersection of the upper butte and lower slopes, along with many other cafés in Montmartre quickly replaced the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter as the intellectual and artistic hub of Paris.3 Nicole Myers, an art historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, commented that “[Montmartre’s] performance halls provided a rare opportunity for the mixing of social classes, particularly between bourgeois men and working-class women, whose interactions were often based on prostitution. The blurring of class boundaries contributed to Montmartre’s reputation as a place for escape, pleasure, entertainment, and sexual freedom.”3 It was in this morally and culturally unburdened environment that Lautrec lived and worked with evening visits to the dancehalls and cafés to drink, socialize, and sketch.  Lautrec’s early success in Montmartre was the result of his innovative lithographic posters commissioned by the various dancehalls and cafés.

Lautrec’s first significant commission, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, a six-feet tall lithographic poster for the Moulin Rouge nightclub in 1891, led to significant recognition among artists and non-artists alike (Fig 4). With inspiration from the Japanese woodblock print, Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge: La Goulue was avant-garde in its incorporation of impressionistic techniques and its utilization of the technological advancements in printmaking, namely the commercialization of the lithograph. The poster portrays the fluid dancing of La Goulue (The Glutton), the nightclub’s most renowned young female can-can dancer whose skirt would be lifted at the conclusion of act, and an anonymous middle-class male patron outlined in black. The sexual tension and psychological interaction between the anonymous male patron and vibrant female dancer reinforced the moral and ethical trends in Montmartre and the diversity of the dancehall’s patrons.3 Another of Lautrec’s well-known lithographic posters, La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine, similarly captures the fluidity of the dance through a dynamic interplay between bold line and a flat, yet vibrant color scheme (Fig 5). Lautrec’s ability to capture and portray harmonious movement in his work is all the more significant when considering Lautrec’s own physical limitations.




While Lautrec’s posters led to his initial celebrity, his oil paintings solidified his position as the preeminent artist of the bohemian culture in Montmartre through their grandiose and honest depictions of working-class life. The Public Ball (mid-1890s) demonstrates Lautrec’s power as an observer (Fig 6). Using a strong diagonal in the foreground (a compositional technique borrowed from Degas), Lautrec creates a physical boundary and an emotional tension between the dancing patrons in the background and the bored working-class women in the foreground. Moreover, his hurried brushwork and decision to thin the oil paint with turpentine to create a translucent effect (a technique known as peinture à l’essence) reinforces the fleeting nature of relationships and interactions amongst patrons and prostitutes.4 The vantage point of the painting is also significant as it is likely the perspective Lautrec, given his physical disability, would possess during his evening trips to the dancehalls.



Lautrec’s oil paintings extended beyond the dancehall to more intimate spaces, primarily the dressing rooms of the prostitutes whom he befriended. While his drawings of working-women preparing for their evening clients (Woman Combing Hair) demonstrate Lautrec’s friendly relationships, his oil paintings, notably Woman before a Mirror, illustrate his profound understanding of their psychosocial condition (Fig 7, Fig 8). Standing naked before a mirror, the woman’s internal psychological state is ambiguous while her physical form is concretely defined and explored artistically. There is an intimacy and brutality that challenges the viewer to question their own gaze as well as their predisposed conclusions. As Cora Michael, an art historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, posits, “Lautrec presents her neither as a moralizing symbol nor a romantic heroine, but rather as a flesh-and-blood woman (the dominant whites and reds in the composition reinforce this reading), as capable of joy and sadness as anyone.” 5 His oil paintings challenged the established doctrine of the time and granted a level of prestige to the working-class women of Montmartre typically reserved for the aristocratic class. Perhaps Lautrec’s own physical limitations and personal vices enabled him to not only befriend, but uniquely understand and portray the variable psychosocial circumstance of his subjects.




Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s career lasted a little over a decade with his most productive period occurring from the late 1880s to an untimely hospitalization in 1899 for delirium tremens, a complication of chronic alcoholism.  Lautrec used the horse sketches mentioned earlier in this article to demonstrate to his physicians that he was safe to return to Paris to resume his work as an artist.1 But his return to Montmartre was rocky and within a few months Lautrec was consuming copious amounts of alcohol and began to suffer neurologic complications of syphilis, a venereal disease he contracted in 1888 as a result of his sexual relationships with prostitutes. In 1901, Lautrec suffered a seizure complicated shortly thereafter by a stroke which left him incapacitated. He died a few days later in Malrome, France, three months prior to his 37th birthday. His unique ability to capture the vibrancy and fluidity of 19th century French bohemian culture as well as his intimate depictions of the ambiguity and emotional isolation of the working-class women of Montmartre cement Lautrec’s legacy as the preeminent documentarian of “the naughty-nineties.” His physical disability and vibrant personality likely enabled him to effortlessly navigate this bohemian underworld with ease; an artist whose own physical wounds offered him a unique insight into the psychological condition of his subjects.



  1. Cawthorne T. Toulouse-Lautrec–triumph over infirmity. Proc R Soc Med. 1970;63(8):800-805.
  2. Herbert JJ. Toulouse Lautrec. A tragic life; an inspired work; a difficult diagnosis. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1972;89:37-51.
  3. Myers N. The Lure of Montmartre, 1880-1890. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2007.
  4. Permanent Art Collection Label. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Moulin de la Galette. Chicago Institute of Art: Chicago Insitute of Art; 1886.
  5. Michael C. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2010.

24 November 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, in the town of Albi in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France. He is, of course, famous as a post-impressionist artist, but was also a printmaker, illustrator and draughtsman. Lautrec was descended from two aristocratic French families, dating back to the Crusades, who had lived in the south of France for centuries. The families, as was common in the French aristocracy, frequently intermarried. Lautrec’s grandmothers were sisters, and his parents, therefore, were first cousins.

Parental consanguinity of this type frequently leads to congenital deformities, as the risk of any recessive genes being passed on is increased. In fact three of Lautrec’s first cousins suffered from dwarfism, with severe deformities, either relying on crutches, or not walking at all. Their parents were the sister of Lautrec’s father, married to her cousin, his mother’s brother. This consanguinity almost certainly contributed to the array of physical disabilities which make Lautrec’s image instantly recognisable. There has been much debate as to their cause, with the consensus nowadays being pycnodysostosis, a hereditary autosomal recessive condition caused by a deficiency of the enzyme cysteine protease in the osteoclasts of the bones. The deficiency has the effect of reducing normal bone resorption, causing incomplete bone matrix decomposition. This leads to a decrease in bone quality and increased brittleness. The distal phalanges of the fingers undergo acro-osteolysis (fragmentation and re-absorption), causing them to be unusually short. Another characteristic of the disease is incomplete closure of the fontanelles of the skull.

Retrospective diagnosis of Lautrec’s condition cannot be definitive, as no autopsy was performed after his death, his bones were never X-rayed, and there has been no attempt to extract samples from his remains. However, there is enough evidence to suggest with a high level of confidence that this is the condition with which he was afflicted, as he displayed virtually every symptom of pycnodysostosis, including a short stature, with shortened legs, a shortened lower jaw and hooked nose, as well as numerous dental problems. Photographic evidence also shows his shortened distal phalanges, and he had numerous fractures throughout his life, starting with a fractured left femur when he was 13, then a fracture of the right femur a year later. He also suffered excessive salivation, had a speech impediment, and lifelong sinus problems. He had an enlarged skull, and was rarely seen without his famous black hat, which is thought to have been used to cover his incompletely joined fontanelles. Pycnodysostosis is commonly referred to as “Toulouse-Lautrec’s syndrome”.

In a career of fewer than 20 years, he generated 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, 300 pornographic works, some ceramic and stained glass work and an unknown number of lost works.

He threw himself into the Bohemian lifestyle at Montemartre, in Paris, becoming an alcoholic, possibly to alleviate his depression at his disabilities. He died of complications of alcoholism and syphilis, aged 36, on 9 September 1901.

Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, 1878–1927

by richard

Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878-1927)

Boris Kustodiev has a place of honour among those artists of the early twentieth century. A talented genre-painter, master of psychological portraiture, book illustrator and stage-set artist, Kustodiev produced masterpieces in almost all the imitative arts. But his talent is most apparent in his poetic paintings on themes from the life of the people, in which he conveyed the inexhaustible strength and beauty of the Russian soul. He wrote, ‘I do not know if I have been successful in expressing what I wanted to in my works: love of life, happiness and cheerfulness, love of things Russian—this was the only “subject” of my paintings …’

The artist’s life and work are inseparably linked with the Volga and the wide open countryside of the area, where Kustodiev spent his childhood and youth.His deep love for this area never left him all his life.

Boris Kustodiev was bom in Astrakhan. His father, a schoolteacher, died young, and all financial and material burdens lay on his mother’s shoulders. The Kustodiev family rented a small wing in a rich merchant’s house. It was here that the boy’s first impressions were formed of the way of life of the provincial merchant class. The artist later wrote, ‘The whole tenor of the rich and plentiful merchant way of life was there right under my nose … It was like something out of an Ostrovsky play.’ The artist retained these childhood observations for years, recrceating them later in oils and water-colours.

The boy’s interest in drawing manifested itself at an early age. An exhibition of Peredvizhniki which he visited in 1887, and where he saw for the first time paintings by ‘real’ artists, made a tremendous impression on him, and he firmly resolved to become one himself. Despite financial difficulties, his mother sent him to have lessons with a local artist and teacher A. Vlasov, of whom Kustodiev always retained warm memories. Graduating from a theological
seminary in 1896, Kustodiev went to St. Petersburg and entered the Academy of Arts. He studied in Repin’s studio, where he did a lot of work from nature, trying to perfect his skill in conveying the colourful diversity of the world. ‘I have great hopes for Kustodiev, ‘wrote Repin. ‘He is a talented artist and a thoughtful and serious man with a deep love of art; he is making a careful study of nature …’ When Repin was commissioned to paint a large-scale canvas to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the State Council, he invited Kustodiev to be his assistant. The work was extremely complex and involved a great deal of hard work. Together with his teacher, the young artist made portrait studies tor the painting, and then executed the right-hand side of the final work. At this time too, Kustodiev made a series of portraits of contemporaries whom he felt to be his spiritual comrades. These included the artist *Bilibin* (1901, RM), *Moldovtsev* (1901, Krasnodar Renional Art Museum) and the engraver *Mate* (1902, RM). Working on these portraits considerably helped the artist, forcing him to make a close study of his model and to penetrate the complex world of the human soul.

In the summer of 1903 Kustodiev undertook a long trip down the Volga from Rybinsk to Astrakhan, in search of material for a program painting set by the Academy. The colourful scenes at bazaars along the Volga, the quiet provincial sidestreets and the noisy quays made a lasting impression on the artist, and he drew on these impressions for his diploma work, *Village Bazaar* (not preserved). Upon graduating, he obtained the right to travel abroad to
further his education, and left in 1903 for France and Spain.

Kustodiev studied the treasures of Western European art with great enthusiasm and interest, visiting the museums of Paris and Madrid. During his trip he painted one of his most lyrical paintings, *Morning* (1904, RM), which is suffused with light and air, and may be seen as a hymn to motherhood, to simple human joys. However, no matter where Kustodiev happened to be—in sunny Seville or in the park at Versailles—he felt the irresistible pull of his
motherland. After five months he returned to Russia. Joyfully he wrote to his friend Mate that he was back once more ‘in our blessed Russian land’.

The revolutionary events of 1905, which shook the foundations of society, evoked a vivid response in the artist’s soul. He did work for the satirical journals Bugbear and Infernal Post, drawing vicious caricatures of prominent tsarist officials such as Ignatiev, Pobedonostsev and Dubasov. He also made drawings directly related to the revolutionary events (The Agitator and Meeting) which for the first time showed a revolutionary leader together with a mass of working people. In paintings such as *Meeting at Putilovsky Factory*, *Strike*, *Demonstration* and *The May-Day Demonstration at Putilovsky Factory* (1906, Museum of the Revolution, Moscow), he depicted workers rising in the struggle against autocracy.

Kustodiev was deeply distressed by the defeat of the revolution. His drawing *Moscow. Entry* (1905, TG) is an allegory on the cruel suppression of the December uprising. Houses are being destroyed, people are dying. Soldiers fire on the demonstrators, and Death reigns over all. Scenes of bloody violence against demonstrating workers are also portrayed in the drawing *February; After she Dispersal of a Demonstration* (1906).1906 against bloody repression after revolution

In 1905 Kustodiev first turned to book illustrating, a genre in which he worked throughout his entire life. He illustrated many works of classical Russian literature, including Gogol’s *Dead Soul, The Carriage and The Overcoat*, Lermontov’s *The Lay of Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik and the Stouthearted Merchant Kalashnikov* and Lev Tolstoy’s *How the Devil Stole the Peasants Hunk of Bread* and *The Candle*.

Kustodiev also continued to work in portraiture. His Portrait of a *Priest and a Deacon* (1907, Gorky Art Museum) and *The Nun* (1908, RM) are complex and vivid in their characterization. His sculptured portraits are also varied in form and characterization. That of *I. Yershov* (1908, Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre) shows us the noble, imposing figure of the singer, while in the sculpture of Mstislav Dobuzhinsky we see the artists troubled, searching nature. It was at this time that the circle of images and themes formed which would serve as the basis of the bulk of Kustodiev’s work. He was very fond of folk art—painted toys from Vyatka and popular prints—and studied folk tales, legends and superstitions. He believed that in the minds of ordinary people art was always connected with celebration and rejoicing. In 1906 he painted *The Fair* (TG), in which a colourful crowd is seen milling about outside the merchants’ stalls. Although the scene portrayed is commonplace and seemingly ahlf-hazard, much thought and care was put into the composition of the piece. The bold combinations of bright colours lend it a decorativeness not unlike that of popular prints of the time. Kustodiev was also attracted by the theme of gay village festivals and merrymaking, with their brightness, spontaneity and coarse folk humour: cf. *Village Festival* (1907, TG), *Merrymaking on the Volga* (1909, Kostroma Museum of Local History). These paintings were very popular at exhibitions both in Russia and abroad.


In 1909 Kustodiev was awarded the title of Academician of Art. He continued to work intensively, but a grave illness—tuberculosis of the spine—required urgent attention. On the advice of his doctors he went to Switzerland, where he spent a year undergoing treatment in a private clinic. He pined for his distant homeland, and Russian themes continued to provide the basic material for the works he painted during that year. In 1912 he painted *Merchant Women* (Kiev Museum of Russian Art), in which fact and fantasy, genuine beauty and imitation, are intermingled. Well-dressed, stately, healthy looking merchant women are having an unhurried conversation in the market-place. Their silk dresses shimmer with all the colours of the rainbow, and their painted shawls are ablaze with rich colours. Roundabout, the brightly-coloured signs above the stalls seem to echo all of this. In the distance a red church
with golden cupolas and a snow-white bell-tower are clearly visible. The artist’s perception of the world is festive, cheerful and unclouded.

Although his illness became progressively worse, Kustodiev’s work remained radiant and optimistic.

…The Moscow cab drivers seated round their glasses of tea in the painting *Moscow Inn* (1916, TG) are acting out the tea-drinking ritual with great solemnity and seriousness. A grammophon is straining, a cat is purrying and a waiter is dozing in a chair. The picture is full of witty pointed details.

The inhabitants and life of provincial towns were the main subjects of Kustodiev’s genre-painting at this time. His talent is especially apparent in three paintings in which he sought to create generalized, collective images of feminine beauty: *The Merchant’s Wife* (1915, RM), *Girl on the Volga* (1915, Japan) and *The Beauty* (1915, TG).

kustodiev_merchantThe Beauty1024px-Show_booths._Kustodiev 1916_1920

In the *Merchant’s Wife* we have a captivating picture of a dignified Russian beauty, full-busted and glowing with health. The radiant yellows, pinks and blues of the background landscape set off the reddish-brown tone of her dress and her flowery shawl, and everything mingles together in her bright colourful bouquet.

Another of Kustodiev’s characters, in *The Beauty*, cannot fail to attract the viewer. There is great charm and grace in the portrayal of the plump fair-haired woman seated on a chest. Her funny, awkward position reflects her naively and chaste purity, and her face is a picture of softness and kindness. Maxim Gorky was very fond of this painting, and the artist presented him with one of the variants he made of it.

The genre works which Kustodiev painted at this time describe the world of small provincial towns: cf. *The Small Town* (1915. private collection, Moscow) and *Easter Congratulations* (1916, Kustodiev An Gallery, Astrakhan). This series was completed by one of his finest paintings,*Shrovetide* (1916, RM), which continued the theme of popular festivals.Boris_Kustodiev_-_Shrovetide_-_Google_ 1916

Despite his serious illness, Kustodiev continued to work. He underwent a complex operation, but to no avail. Now his legs were completely paralyzed. He wrote, ‘Now my whole world is my room.’

In the first years after the Revolution the artist worked with great inspiration in various fields. Contemporary themes became the basis for his work, being embodied in drawings for calendars and book covers, and in illustrations and sketches of street decorations. His covers for the journals The Red Cornfield and Red Panorama attracted attention because of their vividness and the sharpness of their subject matter. Kustodiev also worked in lithography, illustrating works by Nikolai Nekrasov. His illustrations for Leskov’s stories The Darner and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District were landmarks in the history of Russian book designing, so well did they correspond to the literary images.

kustodiev_bolshevikKustodiev_-_Congress_of_Comintern 1921

The artist was also interested in designing stage scenery. He first started work in the theatre in 1911, when he designed the sets for Ostrovskv’s *An Ardent Heart*. Such was his success that further orders came pouring in; in 1913 he designed the sets and costumes for *The Death of Pazukhin* at the Moscow Art Theatre. His talent in this sphere was especially apparent in his work for Ostrovsky’s plays; *It’s a Family Affair*, *A Stroke of Luck*, *Wolves and Sheep* and *The Storm*. The milieu of Ostrovsky’s plays—provincial life and the world of the merchant class —was close to Kustodiev’s own genre paintings, and he worked easily and quickly on the stage sets.

Kustodiev’s sudden death on 26 May 1927 was a great loss to Soviet art, but his bright and optimistic works live on: a source of great pleasure for millions.

Francisco Goya, 1746–1828

by richard

Francisco Goya and his illness[1]

Francisco Josè de Goya y Lucientes (Fig. 1) was a painter endowed with a great expressive capacity. His work, which was carried out between the end of the Seventeenth and the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, covered a period of more than 60 years, with a massive production, a wide range of subjects and numerous techniques, clearly eclectic. Oil paintings, etchings, drawings, lithographs were produced with such intensity which would appear not to have ever completely satisfied the artist’s ambitions.

Fig. 1.self-portrait-goya 1799

Self portrait.

Goya’s works would appear to have been produced in two periods: the first, in which the artist was proving his value, a period which included the tapestries and portraits: the second, that devoted to expressive liberty, which is characterised by a varied production of Works of Art ranging from Caprichos to the Majas, the Disasters of War, Black paintings to the Bull fights. This second period – according to the opinion of the critics – shows the signs of his severe illness, perhaps syphilis with which he had been affected in his youth and which had led to complete deafness, after an acute onset which began when he was 46 years old.

Goya’s art ranges from Baroque to the Romantic movement, of which Goya can be considered the first of the Great Masters; others were inspired by Goya, amongst whom, Manet and Picasso. A pioneer in new artistic tendencies and new expressive forms, he can be considered the father of modern art.


Goya was born in Fuendetodos, in the Province of Saragozza, 30th March, 1746, in a modest family; he moved later to Saragozza where his father was a gilder; he studied at a school “Escuelas Pias de San Anton” which took in gifted children from poor families. When he was 13 years old, he became apprentice to a painter in Saragozza. Later, thanks to his friendship with a painter, Francisco Bayeu, who had become one of the Court artists, he moved to Madrid.

In 1770, he travelled to Italy. He went to Naples, to Rome where he met Giovan Battista Piranesi, and particularly to Milan. He is reported to have led a disorderly life, not only with women, but also in taverns. When the Academy of Parma announced a competition, Goya took part, submitting a painting Hannibal in the Alps, and came second, following Paolo Borroni, awarded first place.

The following year, upon his return to Saragozza, he accepted the first assignments to decorate the Cathedral. Two years later, he married Josefa Bayeu, the sister of his painter friend, and worked upon the frescoes for the Monastery of Aula Dei. In 1774, he moved to Madrid, where the Painter Anton Mengs, who was very powerful at Court level, gave him the opportunity to receive assignments to paint cartoons for the Royal Tapestry Hall. The tapestries were to be hung at San Lorenzo del Escorial and at Prado, two palaces outside the city where the Court stayed during the autumn and winter. Over the next 17 years, he produced 62 sketches with popular and country scenes. The Princes: the future King Charles IV and his wife Mary Luise, liked his work. He therefore met with the approval of the Nobility and painted their portraits. In 1780, he was unanimously elected Member of the Royal Academy of Art in Madrid. Three years later, he was a guest, for a month, of don Luis, younger brother of King Charles III, and painted The Family of Luis de Borbon; at the same time, he painted The Count of Floridablanca (Fig. 2) and The Duke and Duchess of Osuna. Goya, who became very popular, with numerous requests for portraits, was nominated Pintor del Rey (1786).

Fig. 2.lThe Count Floricone Goya

The Count of Floridablanca.

In 1788, Charles III died and was succeeded by his son, who became Charles IV. In 1789, Goya became Pintor de Càmara, namely, Court Artist. Belonging to this period was the oil painting on canvas San Isidro Prairie which was never transformed into a tapestry probably because it would have been very difficult to weave the many small details comprised therein. The painting focused on the Feast of the Patron Saint of Madrid, on May 15th, during which the pilgrims are eating, dancing and playing, in a happy atmosphere, full of light.

The French Revolution broke out, throwing the European aristocracy into a state of terror. In 1792, France declared that it had become a Republic. The following year, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded. France declared war against Spain. In Madrid, Manuel Godoy, the Queen’s lover became Prime Minister. In 1801, Goya painted a portrait of this man – the most influential man and the most hated, at that time, in Spain.

Coming back to 1792, Goya became seriously ill; the disorder, the first signs of which had become evident already in 1777, at the age of 31, bringing him to death’s door. He stayed for a long time in Cadiz, a guest of his friend Sebastiàn Martinez, then returned to Madrid where he began working again.

In 1795, he was nominated Director of the Royal Academy. He painted the Portrait of the Countess of Albaand the Duke of Alba. Godoy signed an unfavourable peace agreement for Spain and, in the meantime, Napoleon Bonaparte became Commander of the French army. In 1796, Goya began work on Los Caprichos, a series of 80 illustrations published three years later. The series commenced with a self-portrait in which Goya, with a top hat, appears very sure of himself; in actual fact, it should have begun with a famous illustration called El sueño de la razon produce monstruos (Fig. 3), a phrase that was pronounced by Don Quixote of Cervantes. There is a person fast asleep in the picture (the artist dreaming?) surrounded by horrendous animals: bats, owls, a lynx and a black cat. The Caprichos were prepared with the intention of making a satire on errors, man’s bad habits, eccentricities and madness, and also to criticize the power of the monks, the clergy and the Inquisition. In 1799, Goya became Primer Pintor de Càmara.

Fig. 3.the_sleep_of_reason_produces_monsters-Goya 1797 to 1799

El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.

In France, Napoleon came to power. After several preparatory studies, Goya painted, upon request, the portrait The Family of Charles IV (1801). From 1797 to 1800, Goya painted, at the request of Godoy, the Maja desnuda and, from 1800 to1805, the Maja vestida.


The nude was prohibited by the Church and punished by the Inquisition, but the Commissioner was so powerful that he could afford not to obey the law. Unlike those nudes that smile delightfully, painted by other artists in Europe, Goya’s Maja, like many other women whose portraits he had painted, does not smile; Goya’s Maja is realistic, as are also The Old Women, painted with make-up on their faces and a witchlike expression.

In 1807, with the excuse of invading Portugal, the French army occupied Spain. Godoy was overthrown and Charles IV abdicated. His successor Ferdinand VII was forced into exile. On May 2nd, 1808, the revolution broke out in Madrid. A peoples rebellion which was suppressed in a sea of blood, offered Goya the opportunity to realize two paintings 2nd of May, 1808, and the most famous, Shooting of May 3rd, 1808 (Fig. 4) which he was to paint, however, in 1814. The Spanish war of independence lasted five years. In 1810, Goya began to prepare a series of engravings entitled The Disasters of War, but, in that same period, also painted a portrait of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, who had come to the throne of Spain. In the Disasters of War, Goya described the massacre which took place between the French and Spanish, the violence and the atrocities of the war. In 1814, after having lost the war and the abdication of Napoleon, Ferdinand VII returned to Spain and commenced a process of severe repression towards the liberals. Goya, to gain the King’s appreciation, painted pictures related to the rebellion of May 2nd, 1808. In 1816, he published another series of famous works including 33 dedicated to the The Bull Fight. Goya had a passion for bulls, bull-fighters and bull-fights; perhaps in his youth, he too had taken part in bull-fights. The pictures are impregnated with deadly violence.

Fig. 4.goya_shootings_of_the_third_may_1808

Death by shooting of 3rd May, 1808.

In 1819, Goya bought a villa close to Madrid, called La Quinta del sordo, but he became seriously ill again. He was cared for by Dr. Arrieta to whom Goya dedicated a picture (1820). Goya was portrayed as a patient, in the arms of his doctor who was giving him some medicine (Fig. 5). Between 1820 and 1823, he decorated the walls of two of the rooms in the new house with a series of 14 paintings, defined, on account of their content and appearance, Black Pictures. Included in this series, but which were later removed and copied on canvas, in Prado, were the horrendous Saturn devouring his sons (Fig. 6) and The Pilgrimage to San Isidro. And this was the final vision of Goya’s world. Dominating were wide-open mouths and the whites of eye-sockets; the figures, monstrous and tragic, expressing all the desperation of the author.

Fig. 5.Dr Arita treating Goya for severe illness

Dr. Arrieta treating Goya for a severe illness.

Fig. 6.546-Saturno-devorando-a-uno-de-sus-hijos-1821-1823-Posters

Saturno devouring his children.

Goya, who was afraid of repressive reactions, asked the King, and obtained permission, to go to France to the Baths of Plombières. He went first to Paris, then to Bordeaux, where many of his liberal friends lived, amongst whom the painter Delacroix. He went back to Spain twice more, once to ask the King to accept his resignation as Court Painter (1826). His resignation was accepted and the King assigned him a generous pension. Whilst in exile in France, in the city of Bordeaux, he painted his last pictures, the lithographs Bulls of Bordeaux and the very beautiful picture The milkmaid of Bordeaux (Fig. 7), a forerunner of the Romantic Movement.

Fig. 7.1200px-Goya_MilkMaid 1826

The milkmaid of Bordeaux.

Goya died in Bordeaux, on April 16th, 1828, after an attack of cerebral thrombosis which had occurred 14 days earlier.

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Goya’s art and his ill health

Goya painted society as it was in his time; his subjects range from the sweetness of children to the sensuality of the Majas, from the horror of the monsters triggered by fantasy, no longer controlled by reasoning, to the pathetic severity of his ladies who never smile, from the atrocities of battle scenes, to the violence of the bull-fights. He was one of the greatest portrait painters. Goya had to please his buyers, and his customers conditioned some of his work, but also when portraying his subjects, he always tended to emphasize their character, their vices hidden by the luxury of their clothes, and to propose the miseries of a society going to ruin. When he became independent, his artistic work was free from restrictions and that was when monsters, witches, scenes of violence, as well as fantasy began to appear, all of which related to the anxiety, worry, and nightmares which were now part of his personality. In some of his pictures, this climate of madness was depicted to perfection 1.

Biographers have divided the painting course of Goya into two periods, before and after his illness. The first characterized by joy and light, the second by horror and ghosts. In actual fact, also in the early period, already some of those figures were beginning to appear and were later found to take the form of his nightmares. The dividing line between these two periods was probably related to his illness. In November 1792, Goya became seriously ill in Seville; he began to suffer from headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing loss, as well as problems with his sight, paresis in the right arm 2 3. This was followed by a state of depression together with hallucinations, delirium and gradual loss of weight. He wrote to his friend Martin Zapatero, on 17th January, 1793, informing him about his disorders. His friend replied mentioning his poca cabeza, hinting the possibility of a venereal infection resulting from his disordered life. In March 1793, Sebastiàn Martinez wrote to Zapatero telling him that Goya was a little better, but that the improvement was very slow: Tengo confianza en la estaciòn y que lo baños de Trillo, que tomarà a su tiempo la restablezcan. El ruido y la sordera en nada han cedido, pero està mucho mejor de la vista y no tiene la turbacion que tenia, que le hacia perder el equilibrio 3. In April 1793, he returned to Madrid, he was extremely deaf and this state of health was to remain for the rest of his life.

The causes of this severe illness have been repeatedly discussed: syphilitic or mercurial encephalopathy, due to anti-syphilitic treatment, the lead contained in the colours that Goya used, or vascular? Unfortunately, references to this situation are limited to the mention made in the correspondence with Zapatero who wrote only: The nature of this illness is of the very worst kind and I become quite sad when I think of Francisco’s recovery. We will look, in detail, into the possible causes of the disorders from which he suffered. Three years later, Goya became very ill again, but little else is known. Certainly, he was now completely and permanently deaf 2.

Goya gradually presented with psychological disorders, such as depression and hypochondria, and, like all deaf people, became diffident. Belonging to this period are some pictures including Inquisition Court and The funeral of the little seamstress expressing situations of mental derangement. The influence that this illness had upon Goya’s artistic work has been repeatedly focused upon. Dividing into two separate periods, before and after, is possibly fictitious because, as already pointed out, tragic elements are found also in the works produced in the early period, certainly, however, in the second period, horror appears more and more often and lead to the production, from Caprices to Black paintings. Furthermore, clearly in coincidence with further outbreak of the disease (in the years 1796, 1819, 1825), the production slows down, to recommence again with greater enthusiasm following the improvement in his health 2. It is interesting to observe how the deafness influences the humour of the artist and, therefore, becomes a factor conditioning his works.

Certainly after the year 1793, a change can be seen in Goya’s way of painting, the subjects go beyond reality with a tonality that is increasingly fantastic and dramatic. One significant example of the developing process that Goya was facing, during his lifetime emerges from a comparison between two pictures in which Goya depicts the same place. We refer to Prateria di San Isidro, produced in 1788, and San Isidro Pilgrimage, in 1820-23. The first is festive, full of the joy of life, the second, produced more than thirty years later, is horrendous: the crowd, which is in procession, is made up of men and women singing salms with their mouths wide open, their eyes looking upwards, their faces that look like masks.

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Morbid causes

Those Authors who have studied Goya’s health conditions have, obviously, been able to offer only hypothetical diagnostic conclusions: all are in agreement in recognizing the presence of central and peripheral neurological lesions, but have offered interpretations which are considerably different concerning the causes of these pathological conditions 2 3. Some have hypothesized a syphilitic origin, others arteriosclerotic, and yet others blame chronic intoxication from lead or mercury.

In our opinion, the three aetiological causes do not exclude one from the other, indeed they probably share the responsibility for the origin and progression of the pathological condition.

Syphilis in the 18th Century was very widespread and there can be no doubt that the type of life that the artist led would have easily exposed him to venereal infection, on the other hand, the fact that his wife had as many as 20 pregnancies, of which only 5 reached term and only one son survived after the death of his parents, would, indeed, add to this suspicion. But even if infected with syphilis, this alone would offer an explanation only for some of the morbid manifestations from which the artist suffered during part of his life. The neurological disorders may have become more severe due to the iatrogenic effects of the mercurial treatment. At that time, in fact, treatment of syphilis, comprised not only infusions of guaiac and of salsaparilla, but a mercurial ointment was still used which led to effective remission of the disease, but also, with prolonged use, to lesions involving the central nervous system (mercurial tremour, depression), as well as the peripheral areas (optic neuritis, dizzy syndromes), as well as stomatitis, enterocolitis and renal disorders.

Mercurial ointment was introduced for treatment, in the 16th Century, by Berengario da Carpi and by Giovanni da Vigo 4 and, on account of its positive anti-syphilitic action, became used worldwide for approximately three centuries, despite the fact that it had long since been known that prolonged used of the so-called “Neapolitan ointment” could lead to iatrogenic lesions in some subjects 5.

Authors, of ancient times, from Fernelius 6 to Frambesarius 4, from Ettmuller 7 to Ramazzini 4, had already attributed chronic onset of “tremorem manuum” and “gravem vertiginem terebricosam et continuam”, to mercurial intoxication while much more recent studies had reported the presence of optic neuritis and depression 8, all manifestations mentioned, at least occasionally, in Goya’s clinical history.

The above-mentioned symptoms were, however, fairly rare in subjects with syphilis and is found, primarily, in “iatroliptes”, i.e., in those who, on account of their profession, were used to performing unctions in patients, but, in the case of Goya, the painter may have come into greater contact with mercury for professional reasons, indeed the repeated contact with cinaber, a mineral rich in this particular element, once used to obtain the colour red.

If, on the other hand, we take into consideration the hypothesis that the artist’s illness was, at least in part, caused by toxic factors related to his professional activity, it should not be forgotten that the pigments, of mineral origin, used to obtain colours were primarily those containing lead which were the most toxic. Constant absorption of this metal by the skin or respiratory tract could produce, over a long period of time, a slow intoxication, responsible, in some subjects, for neurological, intestinal and sensorial disorders.

The lead contained in the white lead as basic carbonate and in chrome yellow in a chromate form is extremely harmful if taken for several years and the toxicity of some colours has been well-known for a long time. Bernardino Ramazzini, who was the first to describe professional disorders 4 dedicated an entire chapter (Chapter IX) of his work to the typical pathological conditions which affected painters (“De pictorum morbis”). He maintained that, in colours, the strongest toxicity was due to pigments of mineral, not vegetable, origin, and that, unfortunately, the former were used far more, as they lasted longer (“cum metallici colores vegetabilibus longe durabiliores sint”). We now know that it is, indeed, lead which is the most important toxic component of these mineral colours and that this is absorbed primarily by the skin on the hands, but also by way of impregnated clothes and also the very bad habit of holding pens in the mouth. The metal gradually accumulates in the organism causing changes in the microcirculation and the enzymatic systems which then result in widespread angiosclerotic lesions and neuropathological disorders 8. A typical example is lead encephalopathy with fainting fits, hallucinations, delirium and various psychopathological states ranging from simple instability to depression and dementia. Equally typical are retrocochlear deafness and the dizzy syndrome due to toxic labyrinthopathy or to central lesions, whilst saturnine paralysis of the radial nerve were fairly frequent.

A highly suggestive symptomatological pattern if compared with the clinical manifestations of Goya’s illness which include a severe progressive deafness, dizzy spells, psychological depression, hallucinations, an episode of palsy in the arm, manifestations which can be related to the chronic lead intoxication. Nonetheless, some doubts remain inasmuch as we have no information regarding the presence of lesions in the oral mucosa, of convulsive episodes or of the typical episodes of abdominal colic, which are always present in saturnism. It should also be emphasized that, even taking into consideration the large amounts of white lead used by Goya (confirmed by the bills related to the costs of the colours he used), saturnine intoxication is a fairly rare occurrence in painters, indeed this hypothetical diagnosis has been made only in the attempt to offer an explanation for the psychopathological conditions of Correggio and of Van Gogh. Other categories of workers, in whom contact with the toxic element is much greater or much more pronounced, run even greater risks.

The doubts therefore remain and tend to suggest that probably there were more causes, than just the one, responsible for the pathological events that affected this great Spanish artist during part of his life, but that these resulted from a multiple aetiology, from the association of two or more of the above-mentioned factors, since none of these, alone, would offer an unequivocal explanation for all of these symptoms. The most likely hypothesis would be that in addition to the predisposition to arteriosclerotic lesions other damage was caused by intoxication due to the heavy metals and, perhaps, syphilis infection. There appears to be no reason for the suggestion that Goya was affected by schizofrenia. This idea was proposed to explain the dissociation, in very different periods, observed in Goya’s work. In particular, it has been stressed that three attacks, or return of the disorder, were followed immediately by a period of apathy and, then, by a phase of frenetic activity.

This is not, however, feasible, as such a serious psychopathological condition would have severely affected the personality of the artist making him a slave of stereotype fixations and not allowing him the creative originality which was typical, above all of the second period of his artistic production 2. It was, indeed, in that phase that the creative and original personality of Francisco Goya emerged with great force, he finally felt that his own fantasy had been freed from the restrictions related to the commissioned works of art and to his position as Court Artist. Even if we cannot hypothesize a serious psychopathological condition, there can, however, be no doubt that Goya had suffered from a state of depression that the residual complications of his illness had, in particular, accentuated. Particularly the increasing severity of his deafness, as often occurs, would have played a not indifferent role in inducing the sense of melancholy, isolation, seeking refuge in fantasy. With time, almost total deafness had set in, to the extent that Goya was forced to leave the Academy as he was unable to hear the students’ questions (“La sordera es tan profunda que absolutamente non oye nada” (numero di Valles Varela). In this regard, it should not be forgotten that one of the Maestro’s works produced in 1812, considered in the past an anatomical study of various positions of the hand, was reinterpreted by Ferrerons and Gascon 3, in 1998, as a study of signs of the alphabet, that is to say, an attempt made by Goya to devise a new means of communication (Fig. 8). Certainly this severe handicap must have had a marked effect upon the psychology of this great artist clearly contributing to his state of depression, much more so than the effects triggered by the tinnitus, headache, dizzy spells, delirium, since, with the progressive course, his relationships with other people became more and more difficult 9.

Fig. 8.

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Object name is 0392-100X-30-264-g008.jpg

A study of hands, interpreted as sign language, used by the deaf to communicate.

A study of hands, interpreted as sign language, used by the deaf to communicate.

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At this point, one obviously wonders what relationship exists between his poor health and his painting, and between genius and madness. There can be no doubt that the physical disorders, and, in particular, the psychological situation related either to that early period or secondary to the physical disorders, influenced the artist’s production. Infinite examples, both in literature and art, have been reported. As far as concerns the literature, how much of this was influenced by tuberculosis and how many important works of art were produced by great artists who were also somewhat mad. The fact is that genius and madness are intertwined functions of the brain. A work of art is the result of two mental processes and his illness: acquiring the visual impression and elaboration of the latter to transform it into a work of art. The genius sees and elaborates the image according to parameters that are different from those of a “normal” person; the genius needs to continuously experiment because he sees in front of himself, different and new routes and cannot use everyday approaches. It is not, therefore, surprising that geniuses are also a little mad. As for Goya, he was no exception, not only because, even before his illness, his painting shows tragic elements, but also because after his illness, his production becomes dark and gloomy displaying the above-mentioned characteristics. His genius remains great and impossible to imitate.

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  1. Hughes R. Goya.Milano: Ed. Mondadori; 2006.
  2. Sterpellone L. Pazienti Illustrissimi.vol. II. Roma: Ed. Delfino; 1986. Francisco Goya.
  3. Vallés Varela H. Goya, su sordera y su tiempo. Acta Otorrinolaringol Esp. 2005;56:122–131. [PubMed]
  4. Ramazzini B. De morbis artificum diatriba.Modena: Ed. Capponi; 1700.
  5. Fallopio G. De morbo gallico. Padova. 1563
  6. Fernel JF. Medicina.Paris: Ed. Wechelum; 1554.
  7. Ettmuller M. Opera omnia.Venezia: Ed. Hertz; 1734.
  8. Molfino F. Medicina del lavoro.Torino: Minerva Medica; 1959.
  9. Hagen RM, Hagen R. Goya.Roma: Gruppo Editoriale l’Espresso; 2003.



Francisco Goya (1746-1828), a major Spanish artist, became profoundly deaf aged 46 years, following an acute illness. Despite this, his success continued and he eventually died aged 82 years. His illness is sketchily documented in letters written during his convalescence, describing headache, deafness, tinnitus, unsteadiness and visual disturbance with recovery (apart from deafness) over three months. There was a milder similar illness two years before, suggesting a relapsing condition. Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, although previously accepted as Goya’s diagnosis, is not supported by the limited evidence. Susac’s syndrome or Cogan’s syndrome, although both rare, are more likely explanations.[2]

[1] Francisco Goya and his illness

  1. Felisatiand G. Sperati


[2] Pract Neurol. 2008 Dec;8(6):370-7. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2008.161349.Goya’s deafness. Smith PE1Chitty CNWilliams GStephens D.