The paintings of the Spaniard sell for millions, but a British expert now claim many pieces attributed to him were by his assistants.
The authenticity of dozens of Goya artworks is being questioned by a leading British art historian who claims they are not actually works by the Spanish master, but rather created by some of the many studio assistants of the great painter.
Juliet Wilson-Bareau, a Goya researcher, told the Observer that their Goya collections had to be re-examined by museums because there are so many “problematic” pictures. She sees auction houses and dealers regularly selling works under the name of Goya when she is convinced that they are by lesser hands.
She said, “It’s a minefield.” Pictures that have become doubtful are still being presented as ‘by Goya’, knowingly or unknowingly. Everybody wants a picture to be by Goya.”
Francisco de Goya, who lived from 1746 to 1828, is revered in the Disasters of War series for his masterpieces and his savage satires of man’s inhumanity to man.
Wilson-Bareau, who lectured as a Slade professor on Goya at Oxford University, has curated major Goya exhibitions at the Prado, Madrid, and London’s Royal Academy of Arts. She estimates that “dozens” of Goyas will have to be reattributed and that it will take years of research:
“We’ve been aware of the problems for many years, but everybody’s got to do their research now. Almost every museum that’s got a Goya has also got a problematic Goya. They’re very widespread. Some are quite clearly later fakes, but many were by his studio assistants.”
She said, Part of the problem had been an 1812 inventory of Goya’s studio and other possessions, “We believed that everything in that inventory must be by Goya. Over time, I have come to the conclusion that some of them could not be by his hand. The answer is that Goya, like any great artist, had an active studio with assistants, and that many of the paintings would therefore be by other people, but they would all go out of the studio as by Goya.”
Goya was known to have had assistants, she said, but the role played by these people was ambiguous until recently. “Now it’s clear, partly through documentary evidence that proves people were buying Goya and non-Goya works under the same label, that Goya was, in effect, heading a school, as noted by a contemporary.”
She added: “The Metropolitan Museum, New York, has already downgraded several of its paintings as not by Goya, but without being able to confirm their date or authorship. Convinced by this idea that Goya did have a studio – which could account for problematic pictures – the Met will now re-examine them.”
They include a large Majas painting on a balcony, a replica or copy of the original of Goya in a private collection of Europeans. Bareau-Wilson said: “Another painting of the same subject was included in the Louvre’s 2013 Goya ‘study days’. I believe it is by Goya’s close assistant Asensio Julià, who may therefore have painted the more Goyesque version in the Met.”
In a major exhibition on Goya’s studio, Julià features curated by Bareau-Wilson for the Museum of Fine Arts in Agen, in southwestern France. Goya: Genius of the avant-garde. Nearly 90 works loaned by museums and private collections around the world feature the Master and his school.
Goya masterpieces are hanging alongside pictures believed by his assistants by Bareau-Wilson, even though they came from his studio: “That’s why people are able to cling to the fact that they are Goya, even when some of us can see that they aren’t. This is new research.”
In the 1970 definitive catalogue raisonné, on which she collaborated with Pierre Gassier as a young art historian, many of the dubious works were included: “A huge number I’d only seen from photographs.”
She spoke of her “trepidation” when Goya’s pictures change hands for millions of pounds: “If a picture turns out to be by an assistant, of course the value collapses. “Artists in the shadow of a great master can illustrate his imagery, his style, his handling of paint, but the work is not infused with the unique individuality and strength of the original creator. The more works that are identified as being not by Goya, the higher the quality of his own work becomes. That’s what inspired me.”
She will publish her research in the forthcoming Agen exhibition catalog, which runs until February 10.


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