Update: The presentation copy of the first edition of Goya’s Los Caprichos sold for $607,500.
What you see: A presentation copy of the first edition of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos, from 1799. Specifically, you see plate 43–what might be its most famous image–The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Christie’s estimates the set of prints at $500,000 to $700,000.
Who is Francisco Goya? He’s the most important and influential Spanish artist of the 18th and 19th centuries. He captured the high and the low in his paintings and prints, from portraits of kings to the sufferings of the mentally ill. He died in 1828, at the age of 82.
What is Los Caprichos? It is a group of 80 aquatints and etchings that explore what Goya deemed follies, or foolish notions then bedeviling Spanish society. When he published the set in 1799, it flopped, with only 30 copies selling over the course of four years. “Things that are visionary often do badly when they are first published,” says Sven Becker, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s. “It was far ahead of its time.”
Why is this copy worth $500,000 to $700,000? “This is the only known presentation copy in private hands,” says Becker. “It could actually deliver a surprising result, far beyond its estimate. There’s no reason it couldn’t hit $1 million.”
The set of prints is bound in red goatskin. What does that fact tell us? “Red goatskin was the finest material available to Goya,” Becker says. “He went to a lot of expense. It was for a person who was important to him. You would expect Goya to select the very best prints before putting them into a very expensive binding.”
So, who was the lucky recipient? “It’s inscribed to ‘Mr. X’, but the name of the actual recipient has been deleted,” Becker says. “He or she was clearly really important to Goya. It wouldn’t have been just anyone.”
But the lot notes for this copy of Los Caprichos says ‘…there is little doubt that she was María Josefa Pimental (1752-1834), Countess and Duchess of Benavente, wife of Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna.’ Why the hesitation? “I’d love to say categorically that it’s her,” he says. “I was not able to find enough evidence. If I’d been certain, I would have put it in the headline.”
How did María Josefa Pimental know Goya? “At the time, she was known to have been one of his main patrons. He actually produced a portrait of her not long before the printing of this book,” he says. “It’s mounted on the back of one of the blank leaves. It could have been mounted by her. It’s an unusual thing to do. It feels like it had to be her.”
What else makes this copy of Los Caprichos special? “This book was personally handled by the person who made it. He put pen to paper [to inscribe it],” Becker says. “It allows us to build a bridge between the present and Goya’s time, which is so rare.”
How to bid: The Los Caprichos is lot 432 in Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana and the Eric C. Caren Collection, a sale taking place at Christie’s New York on June 15, 2017.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.