GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de
(b. 1746, Fuendetodos, d. 1828, Bordeaux)

The Milkmaid of Bordeaux

Oil on canvas, 74 x 68 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This is one of Goya's last female figures, a painting in changing shades of blue. Blue had served as the colour of the Virgin's mantle in art since the Middle Ages. For Goya, blue radiated a positive aura. He rarely used it. The Milkmaid strikes a new note, far from the gloom and despondency of the Quinta del Sordo, the obscurity of the Proverbios and the records of cruelty and madness in his late black chalk drawings. It recalls something of the light and colour of earlier works made in happier times. Goya, according to his friend and fellow exile Leandro Fernandez Morátín, was pleased with 'the city, the country, the climate, the food, the tranquility' that he enjoyed in Bordeaux. A few months later he complains of the artist's 'arogantilla', painting only what takes his fancy and unwilling ever to correct anything that he has painted.

Like his cabinet pictures of 1793, The Milkmaid is a subject for which there would be no call in commissioned works and it would hardly lend itself to any correction. According to Matheron, in Bordeaux Goya dispensed altogether with brushes, using instead his palette knife and a rag - 'what matter?'. Here is an example of his very late technique used also in his last portraits in which the brush certainly plays a part; brushstrokes that are separate but that combine to re-create the aged artist's vision - with failing eyesight - of the living woman. This painting more than any other has been taken to show Goya as a precursor of the Impressionists. Goya evidently valued this painting highly as he warned his companion Leocadia Weiss not to let it go for less than an ounce of gold, as she told his friend and fellow exile Juan Bautista Muguiro, when she, in great need, agreed to sell it to him in the year after Goya's death.