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Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award For Criticism
In 1792, when he was forty-seven, the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya contracted an illness that left him stone deaf. Yet he continued to interact with the world and to create, spending the next thirty-five years in a world emptied of sound but bursting with images of pageantry, cruelty, and pathos.
In this brilliant, idiosyncratic book – a kaleidoscope of biography, memoir, history, and meditation – Julia Blackburn vividly imagines the artist’s world during this time. She recreates the artist’s friendships and love affairs and breathes life into the subjects of his paintings: an ethereally lovely duchess; the spoiled grotesques of the Bourbon court; the atrocities of the Napoleonic wars. Old Man Goya is a rare work of empathy and imagination, a stunning portrait of the mind and life of a great artist.
“Extraordinary . . . Throughout, the writer’s evocations of Goya’s work are not just intensely visual but virtually audible . . . Blackburn writes to startling effect.” —The New York Times
“[Blackburn’s] real talent is in conjuring up lives . . . You have the uncanny sensation that you have met Goya, felt his honest horny hands, watched him work.” —The Economist
“[Blackburn’s] rare imagination and profound intelligence . . . carry her into the mind and the work of Francisco de Goya . . . Each image, exquisite in its plainness, draws us first into the landscape, then into the past, a process Blackburn repeats until we are mesmerized.” —The Boston Globe
“[A] singular, empathetic homage….Blackburn's attempt to see with Goya's eyes…is most successful and moving. . . .She writes like a painter of still lives.” —The Observer (London)
“Blackburn’s prose is elegant and precise, illuminated by intelligence, curiosity, and a refined visual sense . . . [She] beautifully conveys the changed reality of the newly deaf painter.” —Literary Review