Perro Semihundido – Half-buried Dog – A disquieting work by Francisco de Goya

Half-buried Dog (Perro Semi-hundido, in Spanish) is one of the names usually given to this painting by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.

It shows the head of a small dog looking upwards to something invisible to the viewer. The dog itself is quite lost in the vastness of the rest of the image, which is empty except for a dark sloping area near the bottom: an unidentifiable mass which conceals the animal’s body (perhaps the edge of some ravine or hollow, perhaps a dune of sand… Nobody knows.)

Goya painted it directly on the walls of his house sometime between 1820 and 1823, and, so, not for public exhibition. He used a mixed technique; but mainly oils. The person who acquired the villa in 1873 –half a century after the artist’s death– had the painting transferred to canvas, and this work, as the others on different walls, suffered enormously in the process, losing a large amount of paint.

In the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

[Source: Museo del Prado Website]

(I have also posted the picture in HD; to see it in full detail, just click on it)


The painting is often seen a symbolic depiction of the futile struggle against malevolent forces; the black sloping mass which envelopes the dog might be quicksand, earth or some other material in which the dog has become buried. Unable to free itself, it can do nothing but look skywards hoping for an intervention that most probably will not come. The vast swathe of ocre “sky” which makes up the bulk of the picture intensifies the feeling of the dog’s isolation and the hopelessness of its situation. Others see the dog as cautiously raising its head above the black mass, afraid of something outside the painting’s field of view, or perhaps an image of abandonment, loneliness, and neglect.

Whatever the intention of the painter was, there exists a black and white photograph taken by one J. Laurent just before the painting was removed from the wall, and it seems to clarify some dubious points (at least to me):

–The work is unfinished, and the grey central mass at the right hand side could well be just part of the previous –unknown– works the own artist had painted on the wall.

–There are what do seem like two birds –one of them, flying– just above this central, mostly unpainted, area; just where the dog is gazing to.

The fourteen murals from “la Quinta del Sordo” (The Villa of the Deaf Man) are known as Las Pinturas Negras (The Black Paintings), because there are many dark pigments and blacks in them, and also because of their sombre subject matter. Among them, “The Dog” is the most eerie and enigmatic, but has been determinant in the modern-day consideration of this painter from Aragon as a forerunner of many tendencies in art (not only painting) developed after him. The Impressionists, the German Expressionists, the Surrealist movement and, in fact, most contemporary artistic movements have drawn inspiration from this series of compositions by an aged Goya (between 74 and 77 years old), isolated in his own world and creating with complete liberty.


 

I’ve seen this painting in the Prado Museum several times; the first one with my parents and sister when I was a child; the last one alone in 1992 or 1993. I purchased then a postcard-sized reproduction of the work, framed it and put it on my dresser, in my sleeping room. It is still there (even if, in rigour, on another dresser and another room). I look at it often and it always reminds me that we are this dog; all of us, but maybe I am it more than most around me (but also less than many; and, quite especially, less than my sister while she was in this world. As a matter of fact, she asked me the framed postcard to have it on her own dresser, so I gave it to her and she had it for a few months.)


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17 thoughts on “Perro Semihundido – Half-buried Dog – A disquieting work by Francisco de Goya

  1. Li… great post on a painting I have myself posted about. I will sent you the link, Goya is one of my favourites. The last of the old masters and the first of the moderns. We do have a number of shared passions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Goya was very much like you say (even if he had some, less known, predecessors -clearly, Salvator Rosa with respect to the Black Paintings-). And, yep, it seems we share quite a number of affections. I’ll read your post asap. Thanks for the link.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No 🙂 It did not disappear. WP has asked me now to approve it (which I thought it happened only the first time, with new commenters; but you had already commented on my blog. I will have to check the settings…) — Will answer you later! Thanks heartily again ✨

      Liked by 1 person

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