Goya’s long life can be described as a rage, a rage against his ill health: deafness, depression, encephalitis; against injustice to criminals and lunatics; against war’s cruelties, against the Spanish Inquisition. Rather like Van Gogh, he was an illustrator of his own torment, a torment that was to lead him into ignoring the painterly conventions of his time, in fact Goya is often considered the first modern painter – whatever that means.
The Maja Desnuda is one of the most famous of all nudes, instantly recognisable by practically everybody. The Voce newspaper which commissioned several of my pictures would not let me not do it! My model was Gaia Chon, a dancer from Rimini of unusual looks – her grandfather was Chinese. Who was Goya’s model? We shall probably never know, she could have been the Duchess of Alba, but no one can be sure. We do know that the painting landed Goya in tremendous trouble. The Inquisition – incredibly it was still active in 1800 – summoned him to reveal who had commissioned the ‘obscenity’. He refused and was dismissed as court painter.
Like Modigliani after him, the main problem, after the provocative pose, was the hint of pubic hair. Even in the 1930s when Spain released a stamp with the painting in tiny miniature, the US Post Office refused to allow delivery of mail carrying it. I ducked the issue aiming for a blend of the Maja Desnuda and the later clothed, Maja Vestida. The result is the Gaia Mesnuda – half naked, the Voce which published the photo, is a family newspaper after all. Besides, épater la bougeoisie is passé, isn’t it?