Fiesta in the Air

Plate 53, “Fiesta en el ayre (“fiesta in the air”). “Buelan buelan” (“they fly they fly”). El Toro Mariposa (The Butterfly Bull),  Francisco de Goya, between 1824 and 1828


It is a sketch of a black bull, caught in mid-leap, with what seems to be a bouquet of faces and butterflies flowering from its back. The idea of a toro mariposa might suggest a sexual ambiguity. The drawing, simple but with a great expressiveness, was created during Goya’s voluntary exile in Bordeaux. As the auction house Christie’s quotes: ” the composition is the perfect expression of Goya’s reputation as the first truly modern artist with a surrealism that prefigures Odilon Redon and a searching line that anticipates the young Picasso.” The auction house sold the drawing in 2006 and next year it was acquired by the Prado.

In his Bordeaux albums, Goya abandoned the medium of pen, brush, and ink he had used in earlier private drawings in favor of black crayon—a choice undoubtedly inspired by his work in lithography. This softer medium allowed for greater breadth of execution and compensated for a certain loss of manual dexterity. The drawings from Album G are inscribed with short, enigmatic texts, as in most of the earlier albums; in Album H he signed the sheets but wrote inscriptions on only six. The figural style here is energetic and cartoonish, rather than classical and correct. Flashes of satire and mockery — recalling the spirit of his famous prints, Los Caprichos — run through the sheets. These intimate, freely executed works draw us into the artist’s stream of consciousness as he reacts to novel sights in Bordeaux, revisits long-standing themes, and conjures enigmatic images out of his imagination to puzzle his friends.

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