Left: Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828), “Asta su Abuelo” [“And so was his grandfather!”], 1799, etching and aquatint, 8 7/16 x 15 15/16 in.
Right:Dox Thrash (American, 1893-1965), “Chromatic Tunes,” c. 1938, watercolor, 30 x 22in., signed in recto WPA, courtesy of Dolan/Maxwell.
This season, The Hyde Collection is focused on truth-telling.
Fantastical creatures and comedic scenes from Francisco Goya line the walls of one section of the main gallery, while the varied and vivid portraits and paintings by Dox Thrash are featured in the other section.
At first glance, it might seem odd to pair “Francisco Goya: The Caprichos Etchings and Aquatints” and “Dox Thrash, Black Life, and the Carborundum Mezzotint.” The two artists worked in completely different time periods and places.
Yet, both captured societal changes and, through their works, tried to depict the world around them as they saw it.
Goya did so through sometimes grotesque caricatures of monks, witches, and the aristocracy.
He created the “Caprichos” from 1797 to 1799 and used the series to lambast and poke fun at everything from love to superstition to prostitution.
In one piece, called “Elde la rollona (royona),” a man of the aristocracy is seen dressed as a child. In another Goya points to the hypocrisy of the church, depicting cackling goblin-like figures, dressed as monks and drinking wine, with the caption “Nadie nos ha visto” or “No one has seen us.”
“I still don’t know whether to think of Goya as a pessimist or an optimist with this series because we know that things get even worse for Spain and for Goya. As he’s working on these between 1797 and 1799, he’s deaf and he’s watching the Enlightenment turn into [a] murderous rage in France and then the official forces in Spain are getting more and more reactionary,” said Jonathan Canning, the director of curatorial affairs and programming.
Goya possibly used the series as a way to bring a sense of dark humor to the things he was seeing.
A proud yet skeletal donkey, wearing the clothes of the aristocracy, sits in one etching, holding up a book filled images of other donkeys or asses, with the caption “And so was his grandfather!”
Goya didn’t leave himself out either, depicting himself as a monkey and painting a donkey to look better much better than the one seated in front of him. That etching is titled “Neither more nor less.”
However, as a disclaimer to his salty satire, he created “The sleep of reason produces monsters,” which featured him sleeping as all these creatures unspool from his unconscious mind. Behind him, a flurry of owls, bats, a cat, and other animals seem to be haunting him. Goya doesn’t seem to be in control of any of them.
By declaring that these creatures and thoughts were coming out of his unconscious mind, the etching/aquatint is Goya’s disclaimer for the series.
“He was having his cake and eating it because he was clearly critiquing society but trying not to get in trouble for it,” Canning said.
Showing the entire series of “The Caprichos,” The Hyde draws attention to how Goya developed as a printmaker.
“He’s an incredibly skilled engraver and he started out engraving the paintings of Velasquez from 100 years before him. . . But in this series, he starts to use aquatint and by the end of the series, he becomes a fabulous aquatint,” Canning said.
In “Por que fue sensible” or “Because she was susceptible,” Goya uses mostly aquatint, which is a printmaking process that makes the work resemble watercolor. The piece features a rich black background, with one single light, revealing a woman sitting in what looks like a jail.
While Goya wasn’t the first to use aquatint, he was one of the first to use it in Spain.
Nearby, in the Dox Thrash exhibit, viewers get a glimpse at a different kind of technique, which Thrash is credited for developing.
Carborundum mezzotint, a technique in which the artist creates light passages in a dark field, allows for the creation of richer, more velvety tones in printmaking. It enabled Thrash to better depict African Americans, as evidenced by a portrait called “Charlotte,” one of the first viewers may see in the exhibition. The figure gazes out at the viewer and rather than getting lost in the dark background, seems to be glowing from it. It’s one example of Thrash’s aim to better illustrate African Americans.
Thrash was born in Georgia in 1893 and left home at the age of 15 for Chicago. He attended classes at the Art Institute, where he became familiar with the work of artists like Winslow Homer and possibly, Goya.
However, he had to stop classes to serve in the military during World War I. He was injured during one of the last days of the war and once he returned to the United States he traveled around and performed in a vaudeville show. Eventually, he returned to the Art Institute, and after graduating, moved to Philadelphia where he spent much of his career.
Thrash illustrated the everyday life of African Americans and not in the caricatured way that was often done in newspapers at the time. With pieces like “Sunday Morning,” in which a well-dressed woman is walking to church, Thrash argues that African American life is worthy of being depicted in high art.
“You get these very noble, strong-looking male [figures] in watercolor,” Canning said.
In “Chromatic Tunes,” a figure is dressed in a white and hat, playing harmonica. In “Portrait of a Man,” the figure, wearing a suit and tie, looks out directly at the viewer. Thrash also painted a series of portraits featuring African American women, also portraying them as strong and stylish.
Other works in the exhibition highlight the working lives of African Americans, like in the etching called “Heave!” which shows several men working in a field, with a shadowy light surrounding them. The piece echoes the style of Winslow Homer, and there are several other works included in the exhibition which reveal Thrash’s appreciation for artists he’d studied.
Canning admits that most people who visit the museum probably aren’t familiar with Thrash.
“He’s a name that no one knew but he slots right into the sort of artistic traditions that our audience at The Hyde knows. So they’re ready to meet someone brand new. They can understand the traditions that he’s coming out of but all [the] imagery and the sentiment is new for us,” Canning said.
Together, the Thrash and Goya exhibitions build upon a series of printmaking exhibitions that The Hyde has held over the last few years. It’s allowed the museum to highlight some lesser-known works of well-known artists as well as works by artists who perhaps deserve more recognition.
“Dox Thrash, Black Life, and the Carborundum Mezzotint,” will be on display until March 22. “Francisco Goya: The Caprichos Etchings and Aquatints” will be up until April 26.
For more info visit hydecollection.org.