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Posts tagged ‘Francicsco de Goya’

Who are “The Painter’s Women”?

March 1, 2017

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Fionnuala Brennan’s novel about Francisco de Goya takes the fresh approach of telling the artist’s story through those of the important women in his life. Who were these women, and what was their relationship to the great painter?

'The Milkmaid of Bordeaux', Francisco de Goya

‘The Milkmaid of Bordeaux’

Rosario, Goya’s loyal but conflicted daughter

On the eve of her father’s burial, Rosario keeps vigil by his bedside, spending the hours talking to him before she loses him forever. Affectionately known as “his little ladybird”, Rosario and de Goya had been very close and so, on this night, she is desperate to leave nothing unsaid.

Yet, already distraught by his death, young Rosario also has to cope with being de Goya’s illegitimate daughter, ostracised by the rest of his family. As night turns to day, Rosario’s fear for the future grows more intense. Without her father’s protection, how will she and her mother, Leocadia, survive? Can she trust de Goya’s promises to provide for them despite the antagonism of his legitimate family members?

Feeling guilty for doubting her father’s word, Rosario determines to keep the promise she made to him before his passing. But can she succeed in doing so, in the midst of the chaos that follows de Goya’s death?

“Swear to me that nobody will dictate the art you will make. And when the day comes when you know you are good enough, then use my name. But not until then.”

Gumersinda, the spiteful daughter-in-law

“Opportunist, adulterer, collaborator! I know that one should not speak ill of the dead, but I do not care.”

'Portrait of a Lady with Fan', Francisco de Goya

‘Portrait of a Lady with Fan’ (probably Gumersinda)

Money, respectability and status; for Gumersinda, these are sacrosanct. Her father-in-law, however, appears to defy these values at every opportunity.

Rumours of infidelities with models and rich patrons, of his relationships with servants and his spawning of illegitimate heirs do not appear to ruffle him. Nor does he see the hypocrisy between his political paintings and his political actions. But Gumersinda cares. And she will not stand for de Goya jeopardising her, or her son’s, reputation anymore.

Charcoal drawing 'Gumersinda Goicoechea, de Goya's daughter-in-law', Francisco de Goya

Charcoal drawing ‘Gumersinda Goicoechea’

When she is called away from her comfortable life in Spain to attend to her dying father-in-law, Gumersinda is annoyed with Javier, her husband. He is blind to his father’s faults and has never caught on to Gumersinda’s dislike of the man.

However, seizing the opportunity she has unwittingly been given, Gumersinda resolves to save the dignity of her family before de Goya’s mistress, Leocadia, can cause any more harm.

 

Leocadia, Goya’s frustrated companion and mother of Rosario

Fleeing an unhappy marriage and with a son to support, Leocadia first met the widowed de Goya when she applied to be his housekeeper. Over time, they became lovers and their daughter, Rosario, was born. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, neither Leocadia nor Rosario could ever receive recognition as de Goya’s family which left Leocadia feeling like an object of shame, hidden away in de Goya’s house.

'La Leocadia', Francisco de Goya

‘La Leocadia’

“Everybody here knows that I was his wife – in all but name.”

For Leocadia, de Goya has never appreciated the sacrifices she made to be with him nor has he always been kind to her. He directed his passion and energy towards his art and his tenderness to his children and grandchildren, yet for Leocadia, all her efforts led to were loud arguments and stormy exits. Even the memory of his deceased wife, Josefa, loomed like a spectre in their relationship.

But now that de Goya has died, will Leocadia finally receive some token of appreciation from him? Can Leocadia now emerge from the shadows of Goya’s life and earn the respect she deserves?

 

Charcoal drawing of Josefa Bayeu, Francisco de Goya

Charcoal drawing of Josefa Bayeu

Josefa, the long-suffering wife

Confined to her deathbed, Josefa spends her remaining days looking back on her marriage to the fiercely proud and temperamental Goya. Marrying into a respected and well-connected family was of great advantage to Goya, yet for Josefa it produced a string of tragic pregnancies which left her feeling voiceless and alone.

“I was stricken with a sickness of mind and body worse than the plague. There was no hope, no reason for me to go on breathing”

A sympathetic response was all Josefa desired but proved difficult to achieve when having to compete with Goya’s art – and his female models – for his attention.

As she approaches the end of her life, Josefa wishes to make de Goya hear the truth about their marriage, about the ways she suffered.

Can she at last cease vying for Goya’s attention and get the respect she deserves? Yet if there was any love in their marriage, will it fully reveal itself now before it’s too late?

'The White Duchess', Francisco de Goya

‘The White Duchess’

Duchess of Alba, Goya’s fiery patron

Beautiful and intelligent, the Duchess of Alba does not lack confidence in her abilities. When she sets her sights on something – or someone – she normally gets her way. If this makes her endearing to men, it bristles the women she takes them from.

In an effort to rile another woman, the Duchess summons Goya to her home to paint a number of portraits for her. Goya’s arrogant nature vexes the Duchess at first but, to her surprise, she finds herself wanting him nonetheless.

'The Black Duchess' Francisco de Goya

‘The Black Duchess’

“In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.”

Widely revered for her beauty and skilled at the art of seduction, the Duchess feels a certain power over the artist she has employed. But Goya is headstrong too. Will her flirtation with the artist succeed or has she met her match in Goya?

Dolores, a naïve artist’s model who gets a hard lesson in life

'The Clothed Maja', Francisco de Goya

‘The Clothed Maja’

Working as a maid in the Duchess of Alba’s home, Dolores thought she knew exactly how her life would turn out; she would follow the rules, marry a man of her rank and have a family of her own. However, the normal and secure life Dolores foresaw is utterly changed after a strange artist is summoned to paint the Duchess. Intrigued by the young servant, de Goya asks for her to model for him and introduces her to a life Dolores would never have expected.

“I could hardly wait to find out what being a model for an artist meant. I also wondered why there had to be so much secrecy about it. I was soon to find out.”

'The Duchess of Osuna', Francisco de Goya

‘The Duchess of Osuna’

Duchess of Osuna, another aristocratic patron

“María Josefa has a great many talents and gifts. So elegant, so learned, so accomplished.”

As an artist, de Goya relied on the regular and loyal patronage of a number of Spain’s wealthy elite. His status as the Court Painter and his reputation for being one of Spain’s leading painters of the day helped him receive more commissions. Of these many aristocratic patrons, one of the most fervent was the Duchess of Osuna.

As with many of de Goya’s models – and to the detriment of Josefa and Leocadia – rumours swirled as to whether the two enjoyed a strictly business relationship.

Queen María Luisa

The queen of Spain was another of Goya’s patrons and was fond of horse-riding, as seen in her portrait here. According to the Duchess of Alba, Queen María Luisa was suspected of having a relationship with the prime minister, Don Manuel Godoy.

'Queen Maria Luisa On Horseback', Francisco de Goya

‘Queen Maria Luisa On Horseback’

“Despite the torture she endured while Goya painted her, the lump of lard was apparently very pleased with the finished work, and especially with the portrayal of Marcial, a present from Godoy and thus her favourite horse. Her Majesty was also delighted with the progress of another big painting on which Goya was engaged – a group portrait of the entire Royal Family.”

Video Extract of “The Painter’s Women” by Fionnuala Brennan

November 5, 2016

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“To my mind, Goya is one of the most enigmatic and influential painters in the history of art. In the novel I wanted to explore behind the scenes, to discover something more of the man and of his work. What better perspective to obtain than that of the women who were closest to him in his life? As they lived with Goya at different stages of his long and turbulent career, they have lot to say about the private character of the great artist as well as being able to tell us the background to some of his most famous art works.

Thus, to get a closer view of Francisco de Goya, I chose to create, to listen to, the voices of six women who knew him very well. One of them is the famous Duchess of Alba, feisty, flighty and fabulously wealthy. She appears more than any other woman in Goya’s art. There was much juicy gossip and speculation as to the nature of their relationship. This gossip finds a possible source in Goya’s portraits of the Duchess, especially the portrait in which the Duchess is painted in the black costume of a maja. She is standing on a sandy shore, her right hand points to an inscription in the sand, Solo Goya. On her fingers are two rings, a diamond ring bearing the name Alba and the other a gold ring inscribed Goya.

Maybe there is some truth in the rumours, or maybe not...

Fionnuala Brennan

The Painter’s Women is available here

“The work of the informed imagination”. Jackie Mallon interviews Fionnuala Brennan

July 25, 2016

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Jackie Mallon:  You’ve said you’re fascinated by Goya, and this passion comes through clearly in your novel, The Painter’s Women, but where exactly did your interest originate?

Fionnuala Brennan:  I studied Art History at Trinity College Dublin, so I was of course aware of the importance of Goya in European art history. Years after I graduated, I saw an exhibition of his Disasters of War etchings (Los desastres de la guerra) and that is when my fascination grew.

Here was a Court Painter in late 18th and early 19th century Spain who had painted formal portraits of Wellington, as well as of King Charles IV and Queen Maria Luisa on horseback, and yet who saw nothing glorious or triumphant in war, who depicted the cruelty and inhumanity so movingly in these small etchings. To my mind, he is one of the first and certainly one of the most influential anti-war artists. Picasso followed in these footsteps.

I went to the Prado and was struck again by his “Black Paintings”; the ones he made for himself on the walls of his country house, Quinta del Sordo, manifesting his despair of human nature. Before that, he had published his wonderfully satirical Caprichos. I went to the British Museum to see some of the originals. The society artist who mocks the hypocrisy and superstition in Spanish society – what a fascinating and enigmatic character!

JM:  Why did you choose the point of view of the women in the painter’s life to reveal his character?

FB:  I did not want to write a straight biography, however fictionalised, of Goya. I decided that one can learn more from slanted observation than from full frontal, as it were. And who better to have witnessed Goya’s career than the women closest to him? They can show us how he worked, what personal matters troubled or elated him, and what he thought about some of his patrons.

JM:  Following on from the previous question, there seems to be an endless desire for historical novels like yours, which are often called biographical fiction, in which a fictional story is woven around illustrious figures from the past in the worlds of literature or art. I’m thinking of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel The Girl with the Pearl Earring to 2011’s bestselling The Paris Wife by Paula McLain or 2014’s Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood. Why do you think we like to read these types of stories?

FB:  I think we enjoy biographical fiction because it is less dense and certainly less restricted than non-fiction biographies. Because it has poetic license to look behind the bald facts. Because it is the work of the informed imagination.

JM:  How did you approach the historical research that is so important to your novel? I’m interested in how you strike the balance between fact and fiction: How much of the story is based around actual events and how much is the product of your imagination? Likewise the personalities you’ve given the women.

FB:  Of course, I read and consulted widely to be sure of the historical events and of the dates and circumstances of Goya’s artistic output. I was always interested in trying to look as deeply as one could into the enigmatic nature of the man. I was also interested in his techniques, how he painted and etched. His letters to his lifelong friend, Martin Zapater, told me a lot. The actual events of his life, such as his commissions, his role as Court Painter, the dates of his works, his marriage, the names of five of the six women in the novel, his residences, as well as the historical events in Spain at that time are all factual. 

Five of the painter’s women existed. Apart from the Duchess of Alba, however, we know very little apart from their names about the other four women. I invented Dolores, the sixth woman, in order to place her as the face of The Naked Maja and also to link Goya’s time with the Duchess of Alba in Andalusia in 1796-1797 with his fictional re-appearance in her life during the period of her illness and death in 1802.

Regarding the personalities of the women… I imagined a great deal, but based some of my characterisation on real life events. In the case of his wife Josefa, five of whose children died in infancy, such events must have greatly distressed her, as indeed they did Goya. The row he had with her brother, his first mentor, must also have been a source of distress. His reputed affairs may have disturbed her, as well as his long absence in Andalusia with the Duchess of Alba.

His mistress Leocadia was reputedly sharp-tongued. I imagined what it must have been like to have lived with a much older, difficult, deaf man and not to be accepted as his wife, nor her daughter Rosario recognised as his. According to the date she left her husband and went to live with Goya, it would certainly seem that the child was most likely his. 

The character of his daughter-in-law Gumersinda is a work of my imagination. I looked at Goya’s picture of her and concluded that she was, as we say in Ireland, some piece of work. Greedy, jealous, ambitious for her husband Javier and son Mariano.

JM:  The novel opens and closes with the voice of Goya’s alleged illegitimate daughter, Rosario, also a painter although lesser known. Why did you decide to bookend the story with her?

FB:  Although Goya seemed to have been a courageous man, unafraid to satirize Spanish society and unflattering of his royal patrons, who mixed with the men of the Enlightenment and who was brought  before the Inquisition because of  his painting The Naked Maja, he had feet of clay with regard to his second family. He did not seem to have made provision for the welfare of Leocadia or of Rosario after his death, leaving everything, as far as I could ascertain, to his son Javier and grandson Mariano. I wanted to open the book with his final illness and death during which his daughter Rosario and his mistress Leocadia were his constant companions and support and to finish it with the subsequent fate of these two women, especially Rosario. This exemplifies the statement which ends the novel: “This world is a masquerade… Everyone wants to appear what he is not, each deluding the other and not even knowing himself.”

It is not possible to fully know anyone else, as we do not even fully know ourselves. So biographies, whether fictionalised or not, while casting some light on their subjects, still look through a dark or misty glass.

JM:  I read somewhere that it can be difficult to put into prose the sensations that art evokes without sounding, on one hand, too precious or, on the other, too textbook. Paintings are meant to be seen to be appreciated, not read about. But your descriptions of the masterpieces he created as a result of knowing these women, or sometimes in spite of knowing them, are engaging. Did you have any concerns about this going in?

FB:  This question is a bit more difficult to answer. I believe firmly that ideally paintings are meant to be seen, not read about. However, not everyone can see the paintings in the place for which they were painted, as in churches, or can go to the art galleries where they hang, so the only way they can experience the works is in art books and in the words of art critics. Also, in my novel Goya’s works are described by the women who saw them being made, so that the methods he used and the atmosphere in which he worked show us a good deal about the works themselves.

JM:  Are you working on something new at the moment and, if so, can you reveal anything about it?

FB:  I have just finished a book of short stories entitled Islanders, and I am writing another novel, not biographical fiction this time. It’s set more or less in the present and is in the first draft stage.

 

Jackie Mallon is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs

 

Fionnuala Brennan: Writing about Goya

February 8, 2016

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Goya-A7I have long been fascinated by the charismatic artist Francisco de Goya. The seeds of my fascination with this Spanish painter were sown during my studies in History of Art in Trinity College, Dublin. The firework that sent me into orbit to write the novel, The Painter’s Women: Goya in Light and Shade, was a visit to an exhibition in New York some years ago of The Disasters of War. I was stunned at the depiction, in small intimate etchings, of the savagery of man’s inhumanity to man. No glorious victories, no medalled generals; instead bodies hanging from trees, soldiers castrating a helpless man. Later, I went to the British Library in London and handled prints of the Los Caprichos and visited the Prado to see the Black Paintings.

To my mind, Goya is one of the most enigmatic and influential painters in the history of art. As Court Painter, he was well-in with the Spanish royal family and the nobility, of whom he painted many portraits, yet he lambasted what he saw as the cruelty, superstition and hypocrisy in Spanish society, as we can see in his scathingly satirical series of eighty etchings, Los Caprichos (1799). He saw nothing glorious either in war and depicted it in all its horror and brutality in a series of etchings The Disasters of War (1810-1815) and in his large painting, The Third of May, 1808. Goya painted sunny pastoral scenes, church frescoes, courting couples. The same artist also covered the walls of his country house at Quinto del Sordo with grotesque images of monsters and devils―the famous Black Paintings now in the Prado, Madrid.

So who was this Francisco de Goya? In the novel I wanted to explore behind the scenes, to discover something more of the man and of his work. What better perspective to obtain than that of the women who were closest to him in his life? As they lived with Goya at different stages of his long and turbulent career, they have lot to say about the private character of the great artist as well as being able to tell us the background to some of his most famous art works.

Painting portrait of Leocadia Weiss by Goya

Painting portrait of Leocadia Weiss by Goya

Thus, to get a closer view of Francisco de Goya, I chose to create, to listen to, the voices of six women who knew him very well. Four of the six women whose voices we hear in my novel lived in Spain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They are Josefa, Goya’s wife of forty years, the mother of his six children, of whom only one son, Javier, survived infancy; Leocadia, his much younger mistress who lived with him for the last sixteen years of his life until his death in 1828; Rosario, his unacknowledged young daughter who had ambitions to follow in her father’s artistic footsteps, and Gumersinda, his acerbic, grasping daughter-in law. History tells us very little beyond the names of these four women. I wanted to give them a voice, to bring them out of the shade into the light and in doing so to hopefully illuminate Goya.

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The fifth voice in The Painter’s Women is that of the totally fictitious Dolores, a young peasant girl who ends up, in the novel, as one of the most legendary nudes in the history of art. The sixth woman is the famous Duchess of Alba, feisty, flighty and fabulously wealthy. She appears more than any other woman in Goya’s art. There was much juicy gossip and speculation as to the nature of their relationship. This gossip finds a possible source in Goya’s portraits of the Duchess; especially the portrait of 1797 in which the Duchess is painted in the black costume of a maja. She is standing on a sandy shore, her right hand points to an inscription in the sand, Solo Goya. On her fingers are two rings, a diamond ring bearing the name Alba and the other a gold ring inscribed Goya. Maybe there is some truth in the rumours, or maybe not. Very little in Goya’s life was transparent.

I will leave the last word to the artist himself, talking to his daughter Rosario.

“This world is a masquerade: face, clothing, voice ―everything is meant to deceive. Everyone wants to appear what he is not, each deluding the other and not even knowing himself.”

 Fionnuala Brennan

 

 

Film director Charlie McCarthy launching Fionnuala Brennan’s novel THE PAINTER’S WOMEN

October 28, 2015

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We would like to share Charlie McCarthy’s thoughtful and quirky speech at the launch of The Painter’s Women last night with those who couldn’t attend. Enjoy!

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The Painter’s Women is told from six different perspectives so I thought I might say six different things about Fionnuala’s novel and my experience of reading it. (Relax — they are going to be short! Ish.)

The first thing I want to say is that there is absolutely no need for me or for anyone else to launch this book — as if it were a rocket waiting to be shot into space… The Painter’s Women has already travelled quite a distance from initial idea to final draft; from corrected proofs to published book; from black marks on a page to vivid images inside this reader’s head. It is already launched and confidently in orbit.

2. When I finished reading the novel I phoned Fionnuala to congratulate her. Not knowing the details of Goya’s life and work, I tiptoed around the question of how much was fact and how much was fiction. I was hugely relieved when she said that most of it was made up. Of course, the novel is true to the facts of Goya’s life and accurate about the many paintings mentioned. It is also true that these women did exist.   But their inner lives and voices and viewpoints are totally imagined and all the better for it. Fionnuala has obviously taken the good advice of Emily Dickinson to ‘tell the truth but tell it slant’.

(This is number 3 in case anyone is so bored that they’re counting.) Today I went to the National Gallery to look at their only Goya. It wasn’t there — it’s out on loan. All the more reason then to imagine a tour of Spain and France, Fionnuala’s book in hand, visiting the locations and tracking down all those Goya paintings. In lieu of that exciting trip, I do intend to re-read the book, Google Images at my fingertips, looking up each painting and print as it is mentioned. It is a clever writer who makes it almost essential to read their book for a second or even a third time.

4. Of course, nothing is more autobiographical than the writing of fiction. And so while reading this novel a portrait, or indeed a self-portrait, of Fionnuala emerges. If you didn’t know her personally, you would learn that she is expert in the history of visual art and passionate about what artists do. She also has the emotional intelligence to reflect on the big themes of all our lives: love and loss and longing. Most importantly, she is someone who exudes the life force and celebrates it throughout her novel. Proof of this is in the all-important opening sentences which declare that a man might as well be dead if he doesn’t live energetically. Indeed.

5. The six principal characters in The Painter’s Women are a daughter, daughter-in-law, two wives, (one official, one not so much), a rich patron and a young innocent model. These six well-drawn characters are clearly not in search of an author. Though these women mostly bow to the notion of the Great Male Genius, Fionnuala counterpoints this by giving over the entire narrative to them, women who are neither Great nor Male (obviously / luckily) nor Geniuses. These are women who are mostly now forgotten; not so much written OUT of history as never written IN to it. The novel corrects this imbalance with great confidence. Not only that, but Fionnuala risks and carries off that most uncynical of conclusions — a fairy tale ending. And that is some achievement!

(You’ll all be happy to hear that this is number 6!) So, there is no need to launch this book. But if I was a Royal, on a gangplank, overlooking the big ship of this novel, I would be honoured to smash a bottle of champagne against it, confident that it is sea worthy, water tight and ready to meet its readership. So if you haven’t already, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy because after all there is no such thing as a free launch.”

Charlie McCarthy, Dublin, 27 October 2015

*Charlie McCarthy is an award-winning film director and producer.

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Launch of Fionnuala Brennan’s novel “The Painter’s Women” Oct. 27 in Dublin

October 26, 2015

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Excerpt from THE PAINTER’S WOMEN by Fionnuala Brennan

September 30, 2015

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The Duchess of Alba

Journal extract                                                      

San Lúcar, March 1797

There he is, the arrogant fellow standing in front of me holding his palette like a shield, wielding his brush like a dagger. Totally ignoring my displeasure. Who on earth does he think he is?

‘Excellencia, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba,’ he is saying sarcastically, as if nothing has happened, ‘why so churlish this morning? Please assume your pose. Let us proceed with the portrait. You can stop stamping your dainty silver shoe and take your hands off your wasp waist if you please. It looks so aggressive. Surely you do not want to have the whole world see this side of you?’

Oh, how he infuriates me! I want to wipe that mocking smile off his face.

‘I am incensed Señor Goya because you are a treacherous snake. And an obtuse one. How can you think for one moment that I can pose for you who have spent the night disporting himself with one of my servants?’

Insolently he raises his penetrating black eyes and looks at me as at a child in a tantrum. Such a cool, detached, ironic, fearless look.

‘My dear Duchess, I am surprised. You are jealous! And you call me treacherous. You, who have more dalliances than all the ladies of the Court together. You, who have taken so many lovers; actors, toreros, young students even. You, who have invited me here to this secluded place, although you are so newly widowed.’

I could strike his podgy face. I want to wrench away his palette and brushes. I have a mind to throw a jug of water over that portrait. But I do nothing. I sit there with my mouth open and my eyes blazing. Why do I not order him to leave San Lúcar at once? Can it be that I am afraid to cross this impudent commoner who has vastly overstepped the bounds of his social position? Nobody speaks to the Duchess of Alba as he has just done. Especially not such an old and ugly man, who is as deaf as a bedpost.

‘Excellencia,’ he says dryly, ‘your face is twisted and sour. I shall paint you as a termagant if you so wish. Now, please readjust your mantilla. You should also tighten the sash. Good. Now place one hand on your waist and point the other to the ground.’

I obey but refuse to smile. He continues painting, a smug look on his face. I stand there like a sullen rebuked child and I ask myself once again how is it that I have allowed this man to become so familiar. To order me about like a servant. While I am standing in the pose he had commanded, I remember the first time I went to his studio in Madrid. I had heard of his liking for the bizarre, for the erotic. And I also knew that his work is admired by that old trout Maria Louisa, who fancies herself as an artist. So I had several motives for wishing to meet Don Francisco Goya. The portly creature, Maria Louisa, calls me a bag of bones. It was wonderful to hear how furious she was when I ordered a dozen copies of her latest French dresses and gave them to my servants to wear. Revenge is so sweet.

When I entered his studio he was standing at an easel with his brush.

He did not turn around. I remembered then that I had also heard that he had become deaf so I had to walk right up and stand in front of him and repeat myself. I told him to make up my face with the cosmetics I had brought with me. I did not fully understand why I wanted him to do that, to touch my face. It was not only because I had heard also that he was arrogant and I wanted to put him down, to show him my power. Commanding a great painter, so sought after, to be a lady’s maid. If he was surprised by such a request, he did not show it. I have learned since then that it not at all easy to read Don Francisco de Goya. He motioned me to repeat what I had said more slowly, then smiled in an annoyingly knowing way, as if he could also read the real reason. Without a word, he took the bag of cosmetics from me. He darkened my eyebrows like two black bridges, drew lines of kohl around my eyes, rubbed rouge into my cheeks, and dusted powder over my whole face until I sneezed. It was like he was playing with a doll. And all the time he held my face in his hands and a small smile turned up his full lips. He was humouring me, I realised, as a parent humours a silly child, or a lover cajoles a petulant woman. I, who had come to command him, had been reduced to childishness. It was then that I determined that I would have my revenge on him too, that I would enslave the insolent fellow. I would exercise the full strength of my charm and beauty on him. I realised that if I was to have power over this man, it could not be wielded simply because I am an aristocrat. However, I reassured myself that the task should not be too difficult. At that time I was still a beautiful woman of thirty-three, while he was low-born, at least fifty, rough-looking, and deaf. Not that it matters to me if a man is high or low born, as long as he is handsome and fascinates me.

After that first visit to his studio, I invited Señor Goya to Buenavista and commissioned him to paint a portrait of José and another of myself. For that portrait, I chose a deceptively simple white dress adorned with my favourite red – a deep wide sash to show off my waist, a red bow on my breast, and another pinned on my hair. I even tied a red ribbon on the leg of my little dog at my feet. I know about colour too. The meaning of red.

But my plan of entrapment did not work as smoothly, or as quickly, as I had thought. Most men on whom I cast my eye succumbed very quickly and I do not believe it was only because of who I am. I know that when I pass by in the streets of Madrid people run to their windows to catch a glimpse of me. I am not blind. But this Goya fellow seems blind to my charms. He continues to treat me like a spoilt child. I am not a silly woman without a brain in my head. The most influential and enlightened men in Spain, including the poet Don Manuel Quintana, and the poet and philosopher Don Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos are among my friends. The more indifferent he seems, the more determined I am to have him. In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.

 From The Painter’s Women by Fionnuala Brennan