Goya’s Famous Etching

Three stages of Goya’s most famous etching.

Pen drawing with black and sepia ink. A few charcoal lines. 230 x 155 mm. 1797. Prado Museum, Madrid.

The man asleep at his desk is Goya himself. There are two self-portraits above the sleeping painter and various animal studies, such as the paws and snout of a dog; a horse’s head; a bull’s head.
Beneath him is a drawing board and his box of colors.

Pen drawing with sepia ink. 240 x 172 mm. Prado Museum, Madrid.

In this second preparatory sketch for the etching Goya has simplified the design and written on it: “Dreams. The Universal Language.”
“The author dreaming. He only means to exile harmful commonplaces and to perpetuate with this work of Caprichos the solid testimony of truth.”
He has changed the clasped hands, which might seem suppliant. An enormous bat with a woman’s breasts now fills the center of the picture.

Here is the final etching for his collection called the Caprichos, which means something like “ fantasies”.

From the 1799 edition. 211 x 150 mm. Prado Museum, Madrid.

The large bat has disappeared. The sleeping man is no longer the artist but Everyman, though the draftsman’s pen and chalk are back on the table. Written on its side are the words: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.

Goya began to make the etchings for the collection called Caprichos when he was about 50.  His illness of three or four years back had left him deaf.


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17 Responses to Goya’s Famous Etching

  1. wrjones says:

    I would call a dream of a bat with women’s breasts a nightmare.

  2. ivdanu says:

    I would say the age of Goya, drawing the Capricios IS signifiant… It,s an age of painfully aquiered wisdom ( sometimes) – the most elementary wisdom, like I will die, like everybody elese and let’s make something while we still can… Humans are a bunch of stupid clowns and I hate most of them… etc.

  3. kimiam says:

    It’s interesting to see the three and view the way the artist groomed toward the final version. The first appears much more peaceful in sleep and unaware of what is around him-like the way you’d find a small child who fell asleep during dinner or an activity. By the third version the subject has sunk deeper under his own hands and looks tormented.

  4. peter says:

    I wish I loved the human race;
    I wish I loved its silly face;
    I wish I liked the way it walks;
    I wish I liked the way it talks;
    And when I’m introduced to one
    I wish I thought, What jolly fun!

    Wishes of an Elderly Man by Sir Walter Raleigh

  5. 100swallows says:

    Hey Bill: why don’t you paint a nightmare for us?

  6. 100swallows says:

    Danu: You are certainly right, but that grave illness and going deaf had a lot to do with changing him. He was ambitious in a worldly way before that—he congratulated himself on his success as a painter, his great friends, his big money. Suddenly he became deaf and the world silent. People probably avoided him—at least they gave up trying to talk to him and he to them. Everywhere around him there were mugging faces. But he still had so much to say.

  7. 100swallows says:

    kimiam: Some of the changes were improvements but I thought others, as usually happens when you copy or re-draw, only made the etching different, not better. That big bat in the second version was not a bad idea. And the self-portrait and all those caricature faces above the dreamer in the first sketch would have made another good etching, don’t you think?

  8. rich says:

    Nice presentation, swallows, from first sketch to the final etching.

    To me also it seems that the first sketch retains the vigour of the original impulse or idea, in spite of deficiencies in the execution.

    “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”
    What should I adore more? The title or the picture?

  9. erikatakacs says:

    I find it very fascinating how the work evolves from something personal to something more general, universal. To me the third one is the most balanced, crystallized version. It shows he had put a lot of thought into it. Great post, Swallows.

  10. 100swallows says:

    Thanks erika. I have to agree. Beside the final version the first one is just a page of doodles–there are too many directions. That long bit of writing on the second one is unusual for Goya. Most of his captions are ironic or sarcastic remarks in three or four words (always with spelling mistakes). The last one is tidier graphically too. I was a little sorry all the monsters are bats though.

  11. 100swallows says:

    rich: I wonder if Goya invented that sentence. I vaguely remember reading that he didn’t–not that it matters any more.

  12. Arthur says:

    so i’m supposed to be looking through etching artists for art class. im bored. why do we need to see this stuff? art is originality. so why the heck are we copying other artists work? >=[

    • 100swallows says:

      Arthur: All artists build on the work of others, just like scientists or mechanics or philosophers or anyone. You speak of “copying” so you must be not just an art-history student but an aspiring artist. All the greats copied the works of others, usually because they were impressed by them. Could it be that you see nothing you want to appropriate and use, perhaps to better effect, in your own work?

  13. Swallows has some has some great points! And I agree with Rich on the great title of the piece. As a matter of fact, I’m a songwriter, and I’m gonna use that title (with proper credits of course) for a new song I’m working on. Gonna kinda “borrow” it for inspiration- just like Goya probably “borrow” a little from one of his idols in his day. See Arthur?

  14. Deafness had something to do with the troubled nature of the character in the print but the context of Goya’s life and the political moment of Spain at the time had a lot more impact. Under Fernando VII Spain endured the French Invasion and it’s many horrors in the name of “Reason” – the raison d’etre or excuse for Napoleon Bonaparte imposing his civilizing ideals on Spain and other countries seen as cradles of superstition and darkness. Fernando’s disastrous regime and his duplicitous nature (he wanted to be an absolute monarch while appearing to embrace the french revolutionary ideals like a Constitution at least superficially) caused endless pain in the Spanish people. He allowed his Minister Godoy to run Spain ragged as well. Sometimes the horrors were self-imposed as the populace embraced their King blindly. Goya was immensely frustrated by this state of affairs and torn between the ideals of the French Revolution (The Reason) and its visible results (War, Famine, Monsters….). He ended up exiling himself in Bordeaux after years of painting dark paintings. His last painting “The milkmaid of Bourdeaux” is a symbol of his re-encounter with beauty.

    • 100swallows says:

      Thanks, Josedejuan: Goya must have kept his opinions very much to himself because he stayed in the good books of everyone. It is anyway curious how he was able to keep “politics” out of his drawings and paintings–humankind was his subject. I enjoyed seeing your paintings. You must have begun early to learn English so well. I bet your Spanish has suffered. Un saludo.

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