Currently on display at the National Gallery’s Goya exhibition, this portrait shows how much an artist can impose their style on a subject. If you compare the portrait with others of Wellington, e.g. those by Lawrence, you’ll see that the Duke’s beaky features have been smoothed into something much more sausage-like.
It also presented as a portrait of a mind, and the characteristically strong sense of atmosphere links it to Goya’s engravings and political tableaux.
Goya could be war photography before the camera; the themes are protest, horror, darkness and the aim psychological impact. This force comes through even in his tempestuous images of the Duchess of Alba or the Wellington work above. This is not art to entertain and it works through the viewers’ mind.
I remember visiting friends in Paris and being told to go and see Goya’s “black drawings”, which were then on display at the Petit Palais. The recommended print was a rather ghoulish one called “Hasta la muerta”, showing an old woman dressing herself up, that made me feel quite sick. However, the two that stick in my mind were much smaller works.
One showed a man bound to the stake, a look of horror on his face, and only the smallest tip of the approaching bayonet nudging into the far right hand side of the frame. The other was of a priest bound to a chair, slumped forward and in shade, his dark robe obscuring his face and body. Only his feet, the toes screwed up in every direction, were in light. As the gap in composition was used to show the velocity of a bayonet, the tops of the feet instantly showed the scars and burns on the hidden soles of the feet. Dangerous art indeed.