Title: El Sueño
Date: c.1800
Medium: Oil on canvas
46.5 x 76 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1969 (Shaw Fund)
Object Number: NGI.1928
DescriptionGoya’s portrayal of a sleeping girl continues to intrigue, and is a painting tour de force in muted silver greys and browns, with soft light illuminating the girl’s hair and catching the gold decoration of her low-cut bodice. Her face is turned away in half-shadow, adding to the sense of mystery. Night subjects by Goya tend to have references to the darker side of the human spirit, however there is a sense of undisturbed innocence here. He often worked at night, by candlelight, to create chiaroscuro effects. The canvas’s shape has led to suggestions that this was a decorative over-door. There was a painting by him of the same subject in the collection of Sebastián Martínez of Cadiz, which cannot now be traced. Goya spent several months in Cadiz in the winter of 1792-93, recovering from a serious illness, but that work is generally dated later, judging by the handling of the brushwork. Similar sketchy brushwork and dappled light can be seen in the clothed Maja (c.1800-05; Prado, Madrid), who is a more provocative sitter.
Goya had a long and varied career as a tapestry designer, royal painter, portraitist and fresco painter. In his prints, he was also a chronicler of the horrors of a corrupt society and of war. Going deaf in 1792 seems to have heightened his sensitivity as an artist. He eventually went into exile in 1824.

March 2016

Exhibition HistoryShades of Grey: Painting without Colour, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 22 June - 29 September 2013
Label TextGoya is known for his depictions of nightmarish visions such as The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1797-99). This scene is therefore unusual for its gentle intimacy. A young woman is shown sleeping in a darkened space. The artist creates a sense of mystery by half concealing her face in shadow. The light fabric of her dress is highlighted with touches of gold, as though illuminated by moon or candlelight. Indeed, Goya often worked at night-time as he found candlelight conducive to creating chiaroscuro effects. The painting’s horizontal format has led to suggestions that it was originally designed as a decorative over-door.