Old Age and Summer

I spent an hour or two on Sunday at the Courtauld Gallery on the Strand in London, at an exhibition of drawings by Francisco Goya (1746-1828). In his last years Goya filled a number of private albums with brush-and-ink drawings of various fantastical subjects, and one of those albums has now been reassembled for the first time almost in its entirely: the so-called Album D, comprising depictions of witches and old women in various states of disrepair.

Francisco Goya, (1746-1828) Habla con su gato (She talks with her cat), c.1819-23, Brush, black and grey ink, 233 x 145 mm, New York, The Moran Library and Museum, Thaw Collection small

I stood with my nose to these extraordinary images for an hour or so; but in the end the lure of the sun was too strong, and the lure, too, of the VE day celebrations: from Waterloo Bridge I watched a fly-past of spitfires (I suppose) heading for Horseguards’ Parade and the dignitaries assembled around a veteran Queen.

So, a morning of antique Spaniards and ancient planes. But it was also the first day of a sort of proto-summer, where not only the sun but also the air was positively warm; people were wandering through the fountains in Somerset House, ice-creams were everywhere: a proper May day, then. Winter may be coming, and old age, and perhaps (if you are alive to the implications of last week’s election) the sleep of reason that produces monsters; but a sunny day declares a temporary truce with all that.


Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album is on at the Courtauld Institute until 25th May.