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Posts tagged ‘The Painter’s Women’

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 2)

December 13, 2017

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Patricia Ketola, author of Dirty Pictures

One Christmas, when I was about ten years old, I received a copy of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The book was an unusual choice for a little girl, but I was so thrilled by the marvellous tale of adventure that I could not put it down.  Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver captured my imagination and I wanted to join them on the high seas and participate in their quest for treasure. Treasure Island is such a vivid and stimulating work that it’s still with me after all these years.

Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series

Many years ago, at the height of my book collecting period, my wife handled contact with Scorpion Press in the UK when I was ordering a signed and numbered edition of James Ellroy’s memoir, My Dark Places. That same Christmas, she surprised me with the far rarer lettered edition, of which only 15 were produced.

Kevin Stevens, author of Reach the Shining River

When I was eleven years old, my father gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I read the novel then, have read it many times since, and it remains for me a touchstone of wisdom and great storytelling.

Les Edgerton, author of The Death of Tarpons

The best book gift I’ve ever received, I’ve received perhaps two dozen times. Same book. I have a pile of hardcover copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my favorite book. Most of my friends know it’s my favorite book and so for years I keep receiving various copies of it. And, I love each and every one of them!

Fionnuala Brennan, author of The Painter’s Women

It is not easy to choose the best book present I ever received as what was best then I might not regard as the best now. However, I have chosen a book which I received many years ago because I remember it well and think many of its lessons are relevant today.  The book is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (Knopf, 1984).  She writes of what she terms ‘follies’, the paradoxes of history, from the Trojan War to Vietnam.  Tuchman (1917-1989) was not an academic historian and perhaps that is why her books, while they could be faulted for not being sufficiently rigorous, were widely read and won her two Pulitzer prizes.

To be continued…

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.”

Fionnuala Brennan: Writing about Goya

February 8, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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.

duchess_black_500

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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