The Forge

7:00 AM

Francisco de Goya, The Forge, 1817

The experience of viewing Goya’s work has not been a pleasant one. First knowing him from The Third of May, I was blown away by his composition and ability to create mood and capture emotions. However, it seems rather hard to delve further into his art without getting creeped out by certain elements of his work that seem to work at a subconscious level. It becomes easier knowing his life story and the historical context. However, something else then arises in the appreciation of his work. Even though Goya’s composition and choosing of color to suggest mood are beyond criticism, and his subjects are always poignant and incisive, I was not entirely convinced by his skills of actually putting the brushes to canvas. It already sounds very presumptuous to say so, but I think it's fair to say that his figures are of some distance from those of neoclassicism’s painters and even periods previous to that. They seem unfinished and lack certain refinement. Though “refined” works are not necessarily - sometimes even the opposite of “good” works - Goya, nevertheless, took quite a leap from his predecessors. I am not sure if he had done so in better serving what he wanted to achieve through the entire work as a whole, just like those of El Greco and maybe later Picasso’s. But I wouldn’t be surprised and take them seriously, especially some of his etchings, if I saw them among the illustrations for books such as Oliver Twist. Perhaps I have to see his works up close to let brushworks and pigments reveal more about their significances. 

Enough of my ignorant questioning. The Forge demonstrates a similar style of The Third of May, and is recognized as a paradigm of his late work. The painting largely reminds me of Velazquez's Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan. However, despite a similar subject and composition, Goya turns the religious theme to a secular one. The god is removed, we are left with the down-to-earth, hardcore labor of the time: three muscular men soaked in sweat form an unshakable pyramid, hammering out the future of the nation. Set in plain and ambiguous surroundings, the painting becomes more symbolic than just a close observation of the lower class. Knowing that the painting was done at around the same time of the creation of The Third of May, it picks up another tone of depicting people's resistance to Napoleon's invasion. While the painting was dominated by black and gray, the red blazing metal and the white shirt attract the most attention, a similar method that was used in Third of May. With his back turning on us, we can't tell if they are the same guy. Perhaps Goya hoped that he had resurrected after being "crucified" by the French army, and joined the making of the future. 

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