A European walk through Bordeaux 19
5, rue Mably.
5, rue Mably.
The day after Goya’s death, on 17 April 1828, a religious service was held at ten o’clock at the Church of Notre Dame, before the funeral at the Chartreuse. No sooner was his body laid in the ground than his legitimate son, Javier, appeared in Bordeaux. In the house of the deceased, among the numerous drawings and sketches, there were only two paintings: the unfinished portrait of the next-door neighbour, José Pio de Molina, and another portrait shrouded in mystery: The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. To the last mistress to have helped his father, at the end of his life, Javier consented only to leaving the furniture and linen, 100 francs to pay for one of Goya’s clothing bills, a copy of the Caprices and The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. Goya is said to have morally bequeathed it to Leocadia, telling her “not to sell it for less than a gold crown.” Although Goya did not die in poverty, Leocadia could not escape it after his death. A year later, she had to sell it to one of Goya’s distant relatives, Juan Bautista de Muguiro, for “a gold crown.” More than a century later, in 1945, it was his descendants who gave it to the Prado Museum. In 1949, The Milkmaid of Bordeaux entered the Prado catalogue under number 2,899.
The Milkmaid of Bordeaux made its mark on the world as the master’s most amazing masterpiece in the last days of his life. One of his most delicate and most moving works, on account of its beauty and simplicity. Over the years, many have written about its odd sweetness, the serenity of the posture, the tenderness with which the shawl curves over her chest. As much a poem as a painting.
For many experts, it was the painter’s legacy, a farewell to life, a sort of tribute to youth and beauty. An “avant-garde work juxtaposing bright and light colours in broken touches,” in which André Malraux saw “the tremors of the last Titians...” And a disturbing work too. A Goya, an ultimate style, the beginnings of which were already visible, like a watermark, in the white-blue ochre sky in the background of La Leocadia, painted in 1819 in Quinta del Sordo, in which we find this same light, the start of impressionism. A revolutionary and prescient work.
The childlike figure, with her face half turned to the side in an immutable peace, has always been found unsettling. Numerous essays, books and novels have talked of her and, judging by the flood of literature she has already inspired, this impetuous torrent is not about to dry up.
The work was also found disturbing. During the retrospective of 1996, the Prado Museum itself was still quite clear as to its attribution, emphasising in its catalogue the fact that this is “one of the few works of these last years where he seems to have regained his enthusiasm for colour, for light and beauty”. But in the 21st century, the muse became a target.
In 2001, the first blow came from England. Juliet Wilson-Bareau, British art historian and curator of the Goya: Drawings from His Private Albums exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, doubted the authenticity of The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. According to her, it did not tally with the stylistic and artistic evolution of the paintings in the last ten years of the artist’s life. An X-ray study revealed beneath the famous painting, on the left, the head of a Maure and, under the figure of the milkmaid, a female figure leaning on the balcony of a house. In 2001, The Art Newspaper, followed in 2003 by a biographer of the painter, Robert Hughes, announced that The Milkmaid of Bordeaux was simply a portrait of Rosario painted by herself.
It was declared that, for two centuries, everyone had fallen for the hoax. And to top it all, it might not even be from the Bordeaux period. As part of the investigation, the canvas and stretcher had to be analysed to determine whether they were French or Spanish. In short, The Milkmaid of Bordeaux is apparently not the work of Goya, she is not a milkmaid, and perhaps not even from Bordeaux.
The entire world, in its blind admiration, had remained ignorant. It would appear that the sublime work is not that of a man aged 81, but that of a child of 12. And it may even have been painted before the Bordeaux period, by an artist aged nine, who never made any claims on it.
We still do not know why it bears the signature of Goya, or why Moratín, his friend of always who was in Bordeaux at the time, recognised the figure as “one of the young country girls who delivered milk to his home in Bordeaux”, and described the painter’s ultimate style as “supremely confident and calmer,” of a painting quality that … …
Continue to the Church of Notre Dame.