News2023.06.01 11:38

Goya’s war etchings from Ukraine national museum come on display in Vilnius

Vilnius Picture Gallery hosts yet another exhibition in collaboration between the Lithuanian National Museum of Art and the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Ukraine. This time, the exhibition features two cycles of engravings by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. 

The exhibition Will She Rise at Vilnius Picture Gallery features two cycles of engravings by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, Caprichos and The Disasters of War, from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum.

According to the curator of the exhibition, the subjects of Goya’s prints are particularly relevant in the context of the war in Ukraine. The artist clearly shows how war gives birth to cruelty and barbarity, revealing the futility of death.

“I see this war as a war of civilisations, so it is very important for us to exhibit this exhibition in Lithuania, in Europe,” says Olena Shostak, the curator of the exhibition. “When I started to write the annotation for the exhibition, I was struck by how these works correspond to this day, to what we want to talk about, and strangely enough, not only the Disasters of War but also the Caprichos cycle. They are eloquent, they remind us of what war is, even though they’re about Napoleon’s war in Spain, we can feel that they’re also about our own time.”

Between 1810–1820, Goya created The Disasters of War to reflect on the Spanish struggle against the French, in which he was also involved. The cycle was not shown publicly during the artist’s lifetime.

The works were first published by the Royal Academy of San Fernando 30 years after Goya’s death. By 1937, the prints had been republished five times.

According to the curator of the exhibition, both of Goya’s cycles of engravings were acquired by the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum in 1941 from a private collector. The prints were made from original plates at the turn of the 20th century. During the Soviet era, the Khanenko Museum exhibited some of the prints, but not all of them.

“During the Soviet period, only a part of the collection was exhibited, about 54 works, because the Soviet authorities showed what they wanted and censored the rest,” says Shostak. “When Ukraine became independent and we were going to exhibit them for the first time, I said that I would definitely not censor the works of the famous artist, and so here you see the Goya cycles as they were created.”

The Disasters of War cycle is being exhibited in Lithuania for the first time, while most of the prints of the Caprichos cycle from the Latvian National Museum of Art was exhibited at the Picture Gallery more than a decade ago.

“The Caprichos are valuable because he made them for himself, not commissioned, at the age of 51, blind, deaf, alone,” says Aistė Bimbirytė, director of Vilnius Picture Gallery. “He allowed himself to expose the vices of society.”

“The Disasters of War kind of continues the same subject, because the Caprichos is about the beasts of the soul that may come to the surface given the right circumstances. Goya disguises them under masks, but unless you stop them, they lead to what you see in the Disasters of War,” she adds.

The exhibition of Francisco Goya’s works at Vilnius Picture Gallery will run until mid-September.

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