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Face Off

February 12, 2016

Mrs. Chatterbox and I ventured out last night to see a documentary on the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. Goya is a personal favorite, a painter whose bravado, womanizing (he was rumored to have had an affair with the Duchess of Alba) and deafness have long captured the public’s imagination. His flirting with danger caused him to come in conflict with the Spanish Inquisition, especially when he painted female nudes like The Naked Maja. Goya was a superb portraitist when he chose to be.


In spite of his interest in etching and lithography, Goya’s income was always dependent on portraits of the rich and powerful. Surprisingly, his sitters didn’t mind his frank assessment of them. His brush cut through pretense to lay bare the flesh and blood of his subjects. It didn’t matter if he was painting a king or a peasant; he always strove to capture the essence of his sitters without resorting to shameless flattery.


Shortly before the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, while working hard to bring about Napoleon’s downfall in Spain, sat for Goya.




The Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya (1812-14)




This highly esteemed portrait today hangs in the Spanish collection of London’s National Gallery. Compare it to another portrait of Wellington, painted shortly after the Battle of Waterloo by renowned British artist Sir Thomas Lawrence. Lawrence was the president of the Royal Academy and Britain’s greatest living artist.




 The Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1815-16)



It’s hard to believe we’re looking at the same person. Goya had good cause to look favorably upon Wellington, who was freeing Spain from the tyranny of Napoleonic rule. Yet Goya saw Wellington as a harried man, wary-eyed, his face filled with apprehension. This was not a hasty or slapdash rendering of Wellington, as Goya’s carefully rendered red chalk study shows. In contrast, Lawrence painted a god, a handsome, powerful man, a commander of men and a military hero, someone who would eventually become prime minister of Great Britain.


How is it that these two great artists saw Wellington so differently? Both portraits were highly thought of at the time. Today, photography has replaced oil portraits; people might take both good and bad pictures, but all photographs of, say, Ronald Reagan are easily identifiable.


I wonder how various artists would have depicted The Gipper if no photographs of Reagan existed.




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That is interesting to consider - would he look elderly & vague, or genial & compassionate? Or with little puppet strings? :)
By: The Bug on February 12, 2016
I cannot see a huge difference in the personality of the paintings, but I guess I do not have the eye. I do see difference in style. Those poor painters who had to the camera today tells smaller lies.
By: Tabor on February 12, 2016
This was fascinating, Stephen. Artists under pressure. I never knew this!
By: Michael Manning on February 12, 2016
Goya captured the real man. It's like the difference between a posed professional photograph and a candid shot.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 12, 2016
Goya's portraits have the touch of reality to them. I prefer them to the flattering portraits so often done. (Of course I'd probably have preferred a portrait of myself painted by Lawrence.) Great post!
By: Mitchell Is Moving on February 12, 2016
I easily recognize the man in both portraits. I imagine the Duke of Wellington was harried and apprehensive before the battle and confident and powerful after.
By: ellen abbott on February 12, 2016
Goya..o-boya Sorry, I blame the Tourette's. I think readers of your blog should get at least 3 college credits for an Art Appreciation course. When is the final exam and will any of this be on it? Oh and sign me up or the second semester.
By: cranky on February 12, 2016
I actually prefer Goya's version. The title of this post reminded me of an old, corny joke: "How do you know lepers were playing ice hockey?" "They had a face off in the corner."
By: Al Penwasser on February 12, 2016
I'm sorry, I don't see the great significance. For Goya just depicted the duke as in an unguarded moment while Lawrence's portrait was an obvious pose. On the other hand, I can see where both are highly valuable. Now, if one wanted to get into the psychology behind the portraits, Goya depicted the duke's concern over Napoleon's ambitions while Lawrence had the duke's pride over his triumphant at Waterloo on display.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on February 12, 2016
I too am thinking that the duke was in two different states of mind for the portraits but if not, I would definitely want Lawrence to have painted me.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 12, 2016
That is something i've wondered, do we see how people looked back then, or how the artists of the time wanted them to look?
By: messymimi on February 12, 2016
Well...he sure had a long neck.
By: Val on February 12, 2016
Both are beautiful renderings but your assessment is spot on. Great post.
By: Cherdo on February 12, 2016
No idea about the Gipper's portraits. But the contrasting views of Wellington are fascinating.
By: Catalyst on February 12, 2016
I think he's more handsome in the second one. The portrayal of Reagan would probably depend at least in part on the politics of the painter. Reagan was quite a handsome man. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 12, 2016
I'm sure Yusof Karsh or other great portrait photographers could bring out some differences and it would be interesting to see what different photographers did with Reagan.
By: red on February 12, 2016
Couldn't Wellington have actually presented a different countenance before and after the battle? Also, going at this from a different angle, have you never had a photo taken of you that is quite different from another photo? I know I have! It's especially obvious if taken from a different side (which these two portraits also were), perhaps because I have more asymmetry than some people. Just my opinion!
By: jenny_o on February 12, 2016
I never really thought about this, but it's fascinating. Every artist sees something different in the subjects they paint.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on February 12, 2016
Wow. Crazy how different the portraits turned out. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. Also I would have made a terrible painter. I would have made a lot of stick figures.
By: Mr. Shife on February 12, 2016
The difference is remarkable indeed. The Goya strikes me as more intimate and realistic. The Reagan portrait in the California Statehouse is interesting. It is photo like and is a bit Hollywood-not surprising is it?
By: Tom Cochrun on February 13, 2016
Maybe the Duke's face was filled with apprehension because he wasn't sure what kind of a portrait he was going to get from the rebel, Goya. LOL! The faces bear no resemblance to each other. Good point about RR. Or anyone for that matter. Photographs are truth, paintings are emotion.
By: Lexa Cain on February 13, 2016
I must say, this post is most interesting. Capturing the essence of an individual's personality is a challenge in photography too.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 13, 2016
Goya's portrait is far richer in use of color and he looks far more human that the other portrait. While I was living in Spain I was lucky to actually go to the Prado and view some of Goya's work there and in Toledo also. Way back in the 1970's.
By: Kathe W. on February 13, 2016
Things never change but today they have photoshop and know how to make fat thighs disappear. I really like Goya's work and he was such an interesting character. You know his version is more in keeping with how this man looked. I think of Rubens and the paintings he did of Marie D'Medici. She was...not a good looking woman by any means, and he had the task to paint her and in a flattering light. She liked his work so he was safe (she still looks unpleasant)
By: Birgit on February 13, 2016
Interesting story! I believe that even photographs can capture a person so differently that he or she may barely be recognizable as the same person. Camera angles, lighting, the subject's mood...all contribute to this. Think of how unrecognizable a celebrity may look in a mugshot .
By: Pixel Peeper on February 13, 2016
I see the same man in both paintings. But I have been studying faces in old photos for years and years to try and determine who the person is (genealogy wise). So I see the same eyes, the same hair, the same sideburns and the same bottom lip. But I do think what you are talking about is very interesting. It makes me wonder about some historical paintings and how one person might have changed a face just a tad to make it more agreeable, or prettier. Good post. Happy Valentine's Day to you and your sweetie.
By: Terri@Coloring Outside the Lines on February 14, 2016
I see similarities and he looks awfully cute in both pictures. Sometimes when I compare photos of me, I think I look totally different. So I'm not terribly surprised, but it's very interesting to see the differences.
By: Robyn Engel on February 14, 2016
Oh yes the wary-eyed face filled with apprehension is clearly visible.
By: Haddock on February 18, 2016
This is one very good example of why Ray doesn't do many commissions of people or pets.
By: Bouncin Barb on February 18, 2016

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