Francisco de Goya’s Circus Lady

While documenting works purchased by the Leeds Art Collection Fund as part of my internship I came across a piece of work by Francisco de Goya with three different titles: The Circus Lady, and Skating on Thin Ice and also, my particular favourite, Punctual Folly. I was aware that alternative titles were often given to art works, but the weirdness of these three and the image of the curiously demure yet daredevilish lady astride her equally fearless horse compelled me to look a little further into the matter.

The image was produced as part of a series called Los Proverbios (proverbs) and was only published after the death of the artist. The title of the series and that of each image were in fact given by the publishing house. Goya’s fascination with human behaviour and the excesses that provailed at the time of Carnival, a celebration held throughout Europe in the severn days leading up to Lent sheds a little light on his interest in the circus lady. Whether it was Goya’s intention or the publisher’s interpretation, many of the images seem to be warning against the perils of reckless behaviour and selfish acts; however, connections between Goya’s work and the chosen proverbs have since been put into question. As it has been found inscribed on some of the images earliest impressions, the title Disperates is now often used to refer to the series. In Spanish the word disparate can denote something nonsensical, irrational or outragous and therefore in many ways seems far more appropriate. Yet, for me, despite their dubious origins, the titles given under the heading Los Proverbios only add to the charming quality of the The Circus Lady and the disperate character of this fascinating set of works.

Written by Helen Deevy, Leeds Art Collection Fund Intern, 2010

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