[Animals were there at the beginning of art. But how did we get from Chauvet to "Dogs Playing Poker" and beyond? That's one of the questions 13.7 will be asking with this month's series, "Ars Animalis"—art of the animals.]
When he was 72 years old, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya moved into a house outside Madrid. Though the two-story building was named "Quinta del Sordo" ("Deaf Man's House") by the previous owner, it was an apt name for the new tenant: Goya was almost completely deaf at the time. These were dark years for the celebrated artist, who developed a bleak outlook and feared going insane.
On the walls of Quinta del Sordo, between 1819 and 1823, Goya painted 14 strange, dark, haunting works that depicted such themes as violence and witchcraft, the most famous being Saturn Devouring His Son. They were never intended to be seen by the outside world. In his 1983 book Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art, Fred Licht notes that these so-called Pinturas Negras ("Black Paintings") "are as close to being hermetically private as any that have ever been produced in the history of Western art."
Among them is this enigmatic painting, known simply as The Dog, in which a small canine peeks out from behind an unidentified mass, gazing upward at some unknown thing. It is also known as A Dog, Head of a Dog, The Buried Dog, The Half-Drowned Dog, The Half-Submerged Dog or Goya's Dog. It is not known if Goya titled any of his Black Paintings, which are on permanent display at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
In his 2004 book Francisco Goya: A Life, American novelist Evan Connell writes, "There's a lonesome dog—nobody ever saw a lonelier dog—who could be lost in a sandstorm, possibly sinking into quicksand, bewildered by a senseless universe. Nothing but the pooch's head. What does it think?"
The Spanish artist Antonio Saura called The Dog "the world's most beautiful picture." Rafael Canogar, also a Spanish artist, called it the first Symbolist painting of the Western world.
In his 2004 book Goya, Australian art critic Robert Hughes writes, "We do not know what it means, but its pathos moves us on a level below narrative." Manuela Mena, curator at the Prado, said, "There is not a single contemporary painter in the world that does not pray in front of The Dog."
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image: The Dog (between 1820 and 1823), by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), oil on canvas, 131 cm (51.6 in) x 79 cm (31.1 in), Prado Museum (Wikimedia Commons)