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13 Feb, 2010

‘Less my hero than my love’

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My hero is Goya – hard to explain when so little is known about him, his very few extant letters being so flat (like those of a cabinet-maker, someone said). And given a “fact”, such as that he knew French, because he once signed a letter written in that language, it is promptly contradicted by an old friend of his who said he arrived in Bordeaux as an old man “without a word of French”. But we do know that when near death he made the splendid statement: “And still I learn.” And his work never ceases to demonstrate his loathing of cruelty and stupidity. Never does he romanticise horror, he is not frightened, he is disgusted almost (but, heroically, never quite) beyond expression. And when he loves – oh, the life quivering in his portraits of the doctor who saved him, his friends Sebastián Martínez and Tiburcio ­Pérez y Cuervo and, above all, in that exquisitely tender portrait of the young and pregnant Condesa de Chinchón, first caught by him as a charming child peeping out of a family group. When I think of that I have to say that perhaps he is less my hero than my love.

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