Goya, Francisco (Spanish, 1746-1828)

Yard with Madmen

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Goya described this work in a letter to a friend: “a yard with lunatics, in which two nude men fight with their warden beating them…[it is a scene I saw in Zaragoza].” (source: http://www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org/collections_Goya_Mad.htm) The setting is very stark, with an eerie mood intensified by the grey and green light. The sun shines beyond the walls, but does not enter the courtyard where inmates fight, huddle together, or smile strangely. There is only one attendant, who is forced to employ extreme measures to control them. The two figures who face us are almost like sentinels, inviting us from the comfort of our own world into the chaos of theirs. It is thought that the work was meant as an indictment of how the insane were treated—placed in manacles, regarded as criminals, and the victims of physical punishment. In 1793, Goya suffered a nervous breakdown and an illness that left him deaf. He felt completely isolated from the world and was afraid he was going mad. He wrote to a friend in 1794, “vexed by…my illnesses, and to compensate in part for the great wastes of time they have cost me, I have dedicated myself to painting a group of cabinet pictures in which I have succeeded in making observations that ordinarily find no place in commissioned works.” (source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/oct/04/art.biography) Yard with Madmen was one of those paintings, in which he perhaps looks with horror at where he might end up Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Mental Disorders
Mental Illness
Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas