Spain (part VI)

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With Goya, it was for a day, which is why he moves so quickly. One would say that the old Spain, that of the Holy Office, that of Don Quixote and the enchanted castles, that of Sancho and the unbounded earthy materiality, that of Arab magic, of the raucous and sad music, of the ingenuous cruelty, of the laughter at the gallows, and of the ardor for death, everywhere exhibiting itself or hiding itself, demanded that this man tell its story in haste, before the modern world should enter with the French. He gives us terrible approximations, horses and men ill formed, a species of tragic mannikins who live with a violent life, but which he has never time to refine and to set on a firm base. He interprets his rapid visions with whatever means come to him. His drawing staggers and stutters, but he never hesitates; with a single uncouth line he goes straight to his goal. It is a hasty edifice that he builds, with empty forms and with cloth puppets which he fills with his flame and his unbridled passion, as one stuffs a doll with bran. And yet the thing balances, an architecture is sketched, and also groups abruptly placed which a brief instinct for harmony distributes into blocks of shadow, brilliant lights, and subtle passages which leave in the memory no defined forms, but a persistent hallucination, a fluid whose lightning flashes everywhere and reveals life from within through the black hole of an eye, through a shoulder and an arm as they take aim, a stocking stretched upon the calf of a leg, a rumbling among the shadows, or a lake of silver whose gleam comes to the surface of the picture. Everything is approximate—the landscape, the gesture, the face, the costume. The intensity of the drama is increased thereby. For everything is drama, even a portrait. Now shadows appear, a nightmare coming from the depth of a people, its blood, its pride, its anger, its laughter, its vices, its voluptuousness, and its fervor, evoked in a mad whirl and hurled into the plane of life. Goya is a sorcerer who boils herbs and who surprises in the burning vapor the dark spirit of the soil where they grew.

His most finished canvases resemble sketches snatched from space itself, like a great water color still drenched with water. The tremble of the muted harmonies which Velasquez had revealed to Spain becomes slighter and more uncertain.  Everything trembles and glitters. The pink or gray silks, the blue or purple velvets, no longer merely suggest flowers hidden under the silver dew of orders, brooches, ribbons, and jewels scattered over the breasts and the hair, or around wrists or fingers. One would say that the inner skin of the oranges, the reflection of the flowers in pure water, and the very shadow cast by the rose of the infantas on crystal fountains were traversing the transparent and dancing air of torrid Spain, and quivering in the diamonds, and germinating as drops of fire in the rubies and the opals. The cloudiness of the pearl invades everything, penetrating the air and the bare skin, whose lusts are surrounded by it. The cloudiness of the pearl touches the beautiful arms of the women, the flowing arms, full as a living column, and swelling with sap and with blood. He finds the pearl once more in their gloves which reach above their shoulders, in their little satin shoes, their hair framing their powdered faces with a light nimbus, in the bodices pressed around their warm breasts, in skirts that draw around their bellies in an amorous caress, and in their laps bathed in shadow. He is the most intoxicating painter of carnal voluptuousness. He surrounds women with a kind of flaming aureole. They are all beautiful, even the ugly ones. The pearly glow on a shoulder, a moist mouth, gleaming teeth, or a downy and heavy arm suffices to fill him with fever. Their odor which he breathes, their breath which he drinks, wander in his very harmonies. He takes feverish possession of all the secrets of their flesh. The idea of violation haunts him, but he is held by their grace. He is bestial. But a kind of savage lyricism ennobles his bestiality.

And beside, he knows the danger. He has seen them tossing a disjointed puppet in a blanket. He must have escaped from them after furious debauches, and cast them all on fire upon his canvas, injecting his fury into their eyes which are like dark, hot coals, and their mouths, in which the blood beats. When they are old, he has his revenge; he deepens the hollow behind their collar bones, scrapes their bones, dislocates their jaws, pulls out their hair and all their teeth, reddens their eyelids, and wrinkles and tarnishes their skin. He shows skeletons in décolleté, in a fluffy cloud of silks, with flowers, muslin, and jewels scattered in profusion. Their rank does not frighten him. Infantas or queens, they are hideous and sinister if he sees them so; and if he desires them, he tells it. Moreover, they consent. Everything consents in Spain, upon condition that the fire from within consume life to the end. Princes adopt as their painter the man who knows them best; they allow Titian, Velasquez, or Carreño to exhibit them to the public. It is pride which sets them apart, and then they abandon themselves, like other men, to the frightful realism which permits Spaniards to manufacture invalids, to torture and be tortured with an insouciance which is called cruelty by those who do not understand, to stuff back into the bellies of horses the entrails that were hanging out. Goya is the most implacable. The royal family of his country is a collection of monsters stupefied by the accumulation of physical defects, by the practices of bigotry, by furtive orgies, and by fear. His generals have faces like butchers. The model gives himself to the painter; a savage indifference to everything that is not brute passion and instinctive life provokes sudden encounters from which lightning flashes. When he has not a woman, or when she does not show her arms, her breasts, and her hips, everything is concentrated in the face, which seems a condensation of space seized in flight. The air quivers in all the flesh; the flesh quivers in the air through its inner radiance. It is as if he had surprised life itself. The eyes—the eyes of children especially—are dark holes opening upon thought undefined. Velasquez had seen that. With Goya, the mystery heightens—the form being that of an instant, a lightning impression, a rapid and profound moment, arrested in the flash of an eyelid, a burning shadow accumulating in the passing moment all there is of secret and spontaneous forces in a creative mind.

In Italy, where he passed several years of his youth, he had done hardly any copying, and indeed had rarely touched his brushes. He meditated much before the work of the initiators of painting, and enjoyed himself the remainder of the time. Save for Velasquez, who makes clear to him the true plastic sense of Spain, he knows no bonds of tradition, nothing but a frenzied thought at the heart of a world profoundly agitated by a passion so wild that it succeeds in fixing that world in its most clear-cut and most characteristic aspects. Before his fortieth year he will scarcely do more than begin to interpret the visions which since childhood he has been allowing to ripen through their burning contact with his vices, his anger, his hatred, his bravado, and his wild impulse toward love and toward liberty. And if echoes from afar run through him, as if veiled by the vibrant air and the dust—the melancholy and musical spirit of Watteau, the licentious grace of Greuze and of Fragonard, the sensual warmth of Prud'hon, something of Reynolds, something of Tiepolo—it is that, with a force the more tragic that he is so completely alone in the most compressed country in Europe, he represents a century everywhere determined to free life from the dogmas which stifle it, and from the aristocracies which are no longer worthy of directing it. He fights incessantly, against the monarchy that harbors him; against the Inquisition which does not understand him or does not dare to break his brush; against religion, which was too deeply sunk in the narrowness of the letter to grasp the heretical symbols flashing through it; against the French when they come to stave in with cannon shot that which he loves and that which he hates. Everything serves him as a pretext; his laughter and his fury pass into his state portraits as freely as into his terrible etchings where, at the depth of the blacks, one perceives the movement of vampires, sinister apparitions, gnomes, winged foetuses, and undefined monsters, and where the whites bring forth gleams of a powerful grace—a breast, a woman's leg, or a pure arm gloved with gray. He bounds from one idea to another, striking here, caressing there; he loves, he violates, he crushes with masked irony when men think him submissive; he is filled with tenderness while he revolts; he does not always know what he means to do or to say and, in order not to falsify about that which he feels, he expresses it brusquely in jets of acid, no matter how, but with the spasmodic strength that comes of nerves laid bare and of passion that is stronger than fear. His brush, his pencil, and his etching point race to follow his thought. One thinks to follow it, and it escapes. Is he Watteau when he mingles with the merry-making of the people and surprises, under trees like those of a theater, muffled figures and spangled dresses, when he organizes games and round dances over which passes the sinister breath of something that will never be again? Is he Shakespeare when he follows witches to their nightly revels or sees crossing the depth of nocturnal skies membranous wings and bloody phantoms? Is he Rembrandt when, with a ray of light falling from no one knows where, he illuminates a hunted and furious monster with a human pack behind it? Is he Voltaire when he prostrates his crowds before a preaching parrot, or shows women kneeling at the feet of an ass or before a scarecrow covered with a monk's robe? Is he Hokusai when he sees, appearing in the enervated night, a face or a form in which the most discordant aspects of the beast combine with those of death? Is he Dante when the war comes, when there are piled up in carts the cadavers of the massacred, which the soldiers violate and impale, when one sees emerging from a frame the muzzle of the guns turned on a heap of screaming flesh, when ropes or hands strangle, when a lantern standing on the ground lights up executioners as they bend over, faces torn with bullets, black mouths, lifted arms, and blood and brains spattered about everywhere? He is Goya, a peasant of Spain, jester and sentencer, a ferocious street-boy, an irate philosopher, a visionary impossible to arrest in one form, something gay, evil, lecherous, and noble, at the same time or by turns. He goes through the carnival, amuses himself with hot-blooded women and boneless puppets. His cheeks are red, but his gayety is funereal. One does not know whether he laughs with the others or whether he laughs at them, or if, under their laughter, he catches a glimpse of the teeth of a fleshless skull. He goes to see the killing of the bulls, the garroting of the bandits, and the bleeding of the flagellants; he mounts on the barricades, lashes the prince, and is hail fellow with the blackguard. He decorates his house with frightful figures, people buried alive and fighting one another, cannibals gorged with human meat and waving bloody pieces of it. He goes into a rage against his epoch and partakes with passion of its cruelty, its gallantry, and its tainted romanticism. He is a free spirit, and he is a rustic. He is, of all the great Spaniards who were subtle and savage, the most savage, the most subtle. He is full of darkness, but the flame illuminates him. His indignation kindles like that of a saint, but he has the sadism of torture, and when he says, "I saw that," in describing limbs torn from bodies, decapitated trunks, and heads hanging from branches, he exhibits the soul of an executioner. It was with fury that he lived the life of his sinister and charming land, and of his century, carrying on together its conscious debauch and its instinctive heroism. Driven from Spain by the priests, he died in exile, amid the Frenchmen whom he loved for their spirit of revolution, and whose bloodiest enemy he had been. When his coffin was opened, two skeletons were found in it. . . 

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