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Debunking Myths about Goya’s “Red Boy” at Met’s Once-in-a-Lifetime Family Reunion (with video)

It’s rare (if not unprecedented) that images for the entire checklist of a museum exhibition are arrayed on the front page of the NY Times (see bottom of this photo):

Front page of today's NY Times Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Front page of today’s Times
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

So let’s get right to this intimate, myth-busting show, Goya and the Altamira Family (to Aug. 3), in which the Metropolitan Museum hosts a first-ever Altamira Family Reunion—father, mother (holding their baby daughter), and individual portraits of three sons, including the Met’s poster-and-postcard child, known ’round the world as “Red Boy”:

Goya, "Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga," 1787–88 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Goya, “Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga,”
1787–88
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Thanks to its formidable ability to pull strings, the Met was able to score a loan of the family’s elusive patriarch—Goya‘s “Vicente Joaquín Osorio Moscoso y Guzmán, Count of Altamira,” 1787:

Joaquín Osorio Moscoso y Guzmán, Count of Altamira

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The count’s portrait has never before left the quarters of the firm for which it was commissioned—the Bank of Spain, where he was a director. Because it stayed put, it is in superb condition and still in its original frame, according to Xavier Salomon, chief curator of the Frick Collection:

Xavier Salomon Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Xavier Salomon
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Salomon was a curator at the Met when he conceived this show, at the time when the Red Boy was temporarily reunited with his mom and adorable little sister, in connection with the reinstallation of the Met’s European galleries. The family matriarch is normally estranged from her son, captive in one of the museum’s many collector-specific fiefdoms—its Robert Lehman wing.

Here they are as they were temporarily installed, before the current exhibition, in the Met’s reconceived European galleries:

Right: "María Ignacia Álvarez de Toledo, Count ess of Altamira, and her daughter Maria Agustina," 1787-88, Metropolitan Museum Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

On Right: “María Ignacia Álvarez de Toledo, Countess of Altamira, and her daughter Maria Agustina,” 1787-88, Metropolitan Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Notwithstanding its title, the current five-painting show includes one non-Goya:

Agustín Esteve y Marques, "Juan María Osorio," c. 1785, Cleveland Museum of Art Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Agustín Esteve y Marques, “Juan María Osorio,” c. 1785, Cleveland Museum of Art
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Juan Maria had been acquired as a work by Goya in 1946 by his current owner, the Cleveland Museum, via the Duveen Brothers gallery. Not only is this painting generally regarded as an over-restored wreck, but it is now attributed by both Cleveland and the Met to the all-but-forgotten Goya contemporary, Esteve.

Cleveland’s “Goya” goof now finds itself in good company: Exhibited in a nearby Met gallery are two well-known paintings that it too had acquired and exhibited as Goyas, but that have subsequently been downgraded as “attributed to”:

Attributed to Goya, "Majas on a Balcony," c. 1800-1810, Metropolitan Museum Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Attributed to Goya, “Majas on a Balcony,” c. 1800-1810, Metropolitan Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Attributed to Goya, "Bullfight in a Divided Ring," Metropolitan Museum Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Attributed to Goya, “Bullfight in a Divided Ring,” Metropolitan Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Importantly, the current show disposes of a persistent myth surrounding “Red Boy.” The misconception that it is a memorial portrait is still perpetuated in the Met’s most recent collections handbook, which states that “the painting may have been done after the child’s death in 1792.”

Not so, say both Salomon and Keith Christiansen, the Met’s chairman of European paintings, as you’ll see in my CultureGrrl Video, below. They discuss what is learned by juxtaposing the five early Goyas and explain why the Met’s celebrated portrait of the lively scarlet-clad boy with his cats and birds is, by far, the standout among the artist’s likenesses of the three young boys and their aristocratic forebears:

an ArtsJournal blog