Eighteenth-century European painting, in which Francisco de Goya is a key figure, is a fundamental area within the Museo del Prado’s collections. It comprises includes a large number of paintings, almost 1,000, divided between artists from the most important countries in Europe, led by Spain and followed by Italy, France, Germany and England, with a few examples of works by artists of other nationalities, including Swiss, Russian and Polish. Like other areas of the Museum’s collections, the eighteenth-century holdings also have a historical origin that explains their principal characteristics and which is due to the origin and provenance of the works.
The arrival in Spain of the French Bourbon dynasty saw a radical change in the artistic policy of the new monarchs, which was quite different to that of the former Habsburgs. Philip V firstly invited French artists, essentially as portraitists, including Jean Ranc, Louis-Michel van Loo and Michel-Ange Houasse, although the latter also produced landscapes and scenes of court life. The King’s second marriage to Isabella Farnese was followed by the arrival of the first Italian artists, among them Andrea Procaccini and his assistants, who worked on the decoration of the palace of La Granja and on designs for tapestries. The taste for French art persisted, however, and Ferdinand VI made use of Charles Flipart and Charles François de la Traverse for small decorative scenes.
The monarchs’ collecting habits also played a crucial role and they acquired a significant number of French paintings by artists such as Antoine Watteau and Charles Vernet, as well as Italian ones by Sebastiano Conca, Giovanni Paolo Panini and Luigi Vanvitelli. Ferdinand VI invited leading artists to Spain, among them Giacomo Amiconi and Corrado Giaquinto. The fire in the Alcázar of 1734 was followed by the construction of an imposing building, the New Palace, with decorative schemes for the frescoes of the principal rooms.
These were executed by foreign artists alongside the new generation of young Spaniards who had trained at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and in some cases had also studied in Italy with grants from that institution. Charles III, however, was the monarch who played the key role in the new orientation of the arts in second half of the eighteenth century when he invited to Spain two painters of the highest reputation in Europe, Giambattista Tiepolo and Anton Raphael Mengs. The Prado has a large number of works by all these painters, most of them formerly in the Royal Collection.
They include both portraits of the monarchs and their children as well as studies for the decorative schemes in the New Palace, the royal residences of La Granja, Aranjuez, El Pardo and El Escorial, and the churches under royal patronage. Also from the Royal Collection are works by Spanish artists, from Antonio González Velázquez and Francisco and Ramón Bayeu to Mariano Salvador Maella and José de Castillo, among the most notable, all of whom held important positions at court and at the Academia de San Fernando. The second half of the century was marked by the decisive influence of Mengs and his theory of art, which favoured Neo-classicism.
The group of tapestry cartoons for the royal residences constitutes the most important of the Prado’s eighteenth-century holding and includes Goya’s exceptional series. Successive acquisitions and bequests further enriched the core group of works from the Royal Collection, while from the late nineteenth century onwards the collection grew with the arrival of numerous paintings by other artists, such as those by the exquisite Rococo painter Luis Paret y Alcázar, which offer a striking contrast with Goya’s portraits, genre scenes and “Black Paintings”.