Review: Goya and Gillray at the AGO.

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment


Goya and Gillray: Humor that Bites is definitely a crowd pleaser of an art exhibit, and just like the other art lovers oohing and ahhing in the gallery, I was pleased. Displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, it showcases the caricatures of British artist James Gillray (1756-1815) and the haunting “Los Caprichos” collection of etchings by Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) of Spain. Both artists were disillusioned with the French Revolution as well as other current social injustices, and satirically took the subject up in their art.

The curator did well to seamlessly blend their works across the four gallery walls by dividing them up into categories. “You will not escape,” on marriage and gender relations, stood beside a collection of paintings showing freakish power-hungry monsters, entitled “Here comes the bogeyman.” Gillray’s prints most often included grotesquely exaggerated political or bourgeois figures indulging in vices or excesses, while Goya’s etchings were less direct. “The sleep of reason produces monsters” is a good example of a work from this series, and is on display directly at the entrance to the gallery. Showing a sleeping man demonized by red-eyed owls and other beasts, the work is mysteriously etched with illusion and significance.


It seemed to me that what ‘bites’ in Goya’s works are the hidden condemnations of society behind his nightmarish monsters or suffering people. I say hidden, but who’s to say that they weren’t blatantly obvious to the contemporary viewer? Gillray’s caricatures seemed more direct, as they targeted individuals and events, ridiculing them openly. But as a contemporary viewer it is hard to grasp the full impact of the dark humor, as we are outside of that socio-political reality. Having said that, a fat aristocrat in pantyhose is a timeless hilarity and Goya’s monsters will always be frightening, so I would declare this exhibit a success.

Goya and Gillray: Humor that Bites is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario until April 15.

-Anne Deck

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