July 29, 2004
Bunny Smedley on Making Faces

Excellent piece by Bunny Smedley about the National Gallery Making Faces exhibition.

Bunny starts her piece with some reflections on the fascination that brand new human babies already wired into them for the faces of other humans, and not just the face of mum. I'm going to stick that bit up at my Education Blog.

Later she writes about a Goya painting:

The distance between artifice and accuracy is one of the fascinating strands that runs through Making Faces. One of the finest paintings present – and, incidentally, one of the few genuinely capable of thriving against the fire-engine red walls – is Goya's magnificent Dona Isabel de Porcel. On one level, the work was a commissioned portrait of the wife of some long-forgotten minor bureaucrat. Yet if all it did was to represent her features accurately, why on earth should we care about it? But of course it does so much more than that. One doesn't have to take much of a leap of imagination to suspect that Goya enjoyed this particular assignment perhaps a little bit more than Dona Isabel's husband might have liked. Goya had, as do many men, a particular 'type' that appealed to him. Perhaps Dona Isabel approached it more closely than most. At any rate, what was meant to be a portrait has been elevated, here, into the stuff of full-bodied sexual fantasy – the slightly damp-looking curls, the flushed cheeks, the plump bosom only just encased within the black lace shawl, the remarkably full lips – and, most notably, those impossibly huge, luminous, indeed slightly bulging eyes. No one, frankly, has ever looked quite like this, which is perhaps just as well, because real life would render these exaggeratedly large and emphatic features freakish and unpleasant. As a fiction, however, they are stunningly successful. This is one of Goya's most perfect paintings, which is saying a lot.


My only complaint about Bunny's comments on this painting is that she, or someone at the SAU Blog, might have included a link to the picture, so that we know the one that she's talking about. I found the picture here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:42 PM
Category: Painting