From Goya to Warhol: An Interview with Dr. Reva Wolf, Professor of Art History at SUNY New Paltz


Dr. Reva Wolf
Guest Lecturer Dr. Reva Wolf

LUAG:  The last time you came to Lehigh University to speak it was for the ‘Andy in The Valley” exhibit.  Now we have ‘From Goya to Esteve: The Portrait of The Marques Lorenzo D. Manzanares’, once thought to be a Goya but now attributed to Agustín Esteve.  It is fortunate for us that Goya is your other area of expertise and we get to have you back again.

So let’s start at the beginning; was it a natural progression of your studies or path of inquiry to go from Goya to Warhol?

Professor Reva Wolf:  I have often been asked what led me from Goya to Warhol, and the question has prompted me to think about the commonalities between these two artists.  And I have arrived at the conclusion that they do have a lot in common.  First, both artists were interested in portraiture.  In Goya’s time, portraiture was a way for an artist to earn his bread and butter, and Warhol used portraiture in this way too.  At the same time, portraiture for each artist was a manifestation of an obsessive fascination with people.  Also, Goya and Warhol both were extremely interested in printmaking.  Goya created several series of prints, the most-well known being the Caprichos and the Disasters of War.  Warhol became famous in the early 1960s in large part due to his innovation of using a printmaking technique, photosilkscreen, to create paintings.  In addition, both artists had a keen interest in the popular culture of their time, and represented it in their art.

But perhaps the most important similarity is in the very spirit of the work.  Both Goya and Warhol criticized and commented on the society in which they lived, but they were not speaking from above.  Rather, they were criticizing from within, knowing perfectly well that they were a part of the world that they were criticizing.  For this reason, their art often has an ambiguous note and does not come across as dogmatic.

LUAG:  Goya’s work was critical of the world around him and there was the possibility of being investigated by the Inquisition or repercussions from the government.  How did he work without getting into trouble?

RW:  While the details are not entirely clear, we know that Goya did have some difficulties with the Inquisition.  The first such case concerned his series of prints, the Caprichos.  Later, he was investigated for painting a picture of a nude.  Eventually, in 1824, he left Spain, likely for political reasons, and lived out the final four years of his life in Bordeaux, in southern France.  Goya’s series of prints, the Disasters of War, was not published in his lifetime; perhaps it was a necessary self-censorship, but in any case, during Goya’s life only a small circle of friends would have seen these prints.

LUAG:  Returning to portraiture, could you comment on why not only Goya, but also Esteve is important to Spanish portrait painting?  In our own time, it seems that he exists in the shadow of Goya.  Was this true in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when both were successful portrait painters in Spain?

RW:  Both artists had successful careers as portrait painters.  Goya had a higher official position within the court, and this is an indicator that he was valued more in his lifetime, just as he is now.  Yet, according to the author of the first major study of Esteve’s work, Martin Soria, Esteve created many more portraits for the Osuna family than did Goya (although the Osunas were among Goya’s most important and interesting patrons).  Whether this was because the Osunas preferred Esteve’s work, or for another reason, is unknown.  Soria also notes that Esteve’s salary, when he was named a painter to the court in the year 1800, was less than what his fellow painters received (by this time Goya had long been working as a painter to the court).  So, if money is any indicator, then Goya was valued more in his time than Esteve, as is still the case today.  Esteve nonetheless is a fascinating artist in his own right, about whom we still have much to learn.

Thank you for your time Professor Wolf.  We look forward to your upcoming lecture!

Dr. Reva Wolf will speak on Thursday October 10th, 2013 at 5pm at the Zoellner Art Center.  Admission is free.

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