Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Francisco Goya was felled by a mysterious illness in 1792. He didn’t die, he just fell. The illness made him dizzy and disoriented. Goya stumbled; he teetered. He was nauseous. Voices sounded in his head. He was frequently in terror. His hearing began to fail. Soon, he was completely deaf. By all accounts, he was temporarily insane at points. Then he recovered, though he would never regain his hearing.
Before the illness, Goya had been a successful painter for the Spanish court. He was good, but unremarkable. After the illness, Goya became the extraordinary artist whose paintings — like The Third Of May 1808 — are among the most celebrated works in the history of art. In the late 1790s, Goya began working on a series of prints known asLos Caprichos. The Caprichos are commonly interpreted as satire. Goya was making fun of society’s corruptions and stupidities. Goya himself described the Caprichos as illustrating “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual.” The most famous print from the Caprichos is number 43, which bears the inscription: “El sueño de la razon produce monstrous,” or, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” You’ve likely seen the print. It shows a man, presumably Goya, asleep with his head on a desk. He’s been writing or drawing something. Behind the sleeping man are a number of creatures. Some of the creatures are owls. There are also bats. A lynx sits at the foot of the desk looking directly at the sleeping man. Goya’s fascination with monsters and the edge of reason stayed with him until his dying day.
In his early 70s, Goya had another bout of illness. This second illness caused Goya to begin his final series of paintings, known as the Black Paintings.