Self-portrait with Dr Arrieta

Francisco Goya
Keywords: SelfportraitArrieta

Work Overview

Self-portrait with Dr Arrieta
Artist Francisco de Goya
Year 1820
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 114.62 cm × 76.52 cm (45.13 in × 30.13 in)
Location Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota

Self-portrait with Dr Arrieta is the name given to a painting by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The work is an oil painting on canvas which was created in 1820. It is held in Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota.

In 1792, Goya developed a sudden serious illness which included dizziness, weakness, delirium, sickness, abdominal pain, deafness, and partial blindness.[1][2] By the time he returned to Madrid, in 1793, Goya was completely deaf. Various diagnoses of this serious illness have been offered: syphilis, lead poisoning, cerebrovascular disease, acute infection of the central nervous system, and the rare condition of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome—temporary inflammation of the uveal tract associated with permanent deafness.[3] In 1819 Goya had a second serious illness. Little information is available either on the nature of the illness or on Dr Arrieta's treatment. The painting is the main source, and an inscription below the figures explains why Goya made the picture: “Goya, in gratitude to his friend Arrieta: for the compassion and care with which he saved his life during the acute and dangerous illness he suffered towards the end of the year 1819 in his seventy-third year.[4] He painted it in 1820“.

Goya is seated on his bed obviously weak from his illness. He grasps his bed-sheet as if clinging on to life and is supported from falling backwards by the arm of Arrieta. The doctor gently encourages his patient to take the medicine. Shadowy figures—perhaps his servants and a priest—in the background seem to be portents of doom. Goya may have expected to die, but under Arrieta's care, he was nursed back to health and lived another eight years. Self Portrait with Dr Arrieta is an image of hope amidst despair and the colours are correspondingly more delicate and lighter than in other works of this period.

The work was a present for Arrieta. It was painted in gratitude for the gift of life, not as a memento mori. It is uncertain how long the painting remained in Arrieta's possession. In 1820 he travelled to Africa to research bubonic plague, and it is probable that the painting remained in Spain. By 1860, when exhibited in Madrid, it was in the collection of Mr Martinez of Madrid. Later the painting was recorded in various private collections in Paris before being acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Remember how you felt the last time you were sick? Perhaps your muscles were weak and aching. Maybe your mind was confused by feverish dreams. You might have slept for days.

That is how the old man here seems to feel. His sickly face is nearly as pale as the bedsheets. Ghostly heads hover behind his bed, like figures in a dream. He is too weak even to drink without help. The blackness of the room gives no clue whether it is day or night.

Fortunately a younger, healthier man is by his side. This man’s skin has a healthy reddish glow. His arms are strong and his hands comforting. The ruby liquid in the glass he offers seems to promise that color, and life, will return to the man in bed.

The painter of this picture knew all too well how it felt to be sick—because he was the man in bed. The younger man was his doctor, Eugenio García Arrieta. Francisco de Goya, Spain’s most famous painter of the time, painted the picture to thank Dr. Arrieta for saving his life.

As court painter to both Charles III and Charles IV of Spain, Goya achieved considerable fame as a portraitist. Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, the last of his many self-portraits, was executed late in his life. In 1819, Goya had fallen seriously ill and his doctor, Eugenio Garc’a Arrieta, nursed him back to health. On recovering, he presented Arrieta with this painting which shows the physician ministering to his patient. The words at the bottom read in translation, Goya gives thanks to his friend Arrieta for the expert care with which he saved his life from an acute and dangerous illness which he suffered at the close of the year 1819 when he was seventy-three years old. He painted it in 1820. This inscription gives the canvas the look of an ex-voto, a type of religious painting still popular in Spain, which expresses gratitude for deliverance from a calamity.

In this highly original composition Goya has portrayed himself sitting up supported by his friend Dr Arrieta who is holding a glass to his mouth. The shadowy figures in the background are perhaps allusions to nightmare visions conjured up during his illness. They recall the dark figures in some of the paintings with which Goya covered the walls of the Quinta del Sordo, where he was living during his illness, in retirement from the court. Above all, they resemble the attendants of the priest giving communion to St Joseph of Calasanz. Painted no doubt during his convalescence like the cabinet pictures he painted when he was recovering from his earlier illness of 1793, he has successfully re-created or remembered his appearance when he was near to death: a transformation of his appearance five years earlier.

Goya presented his portrait to his doctor, Eugenio Garcia Arrieta, whom he esteemed highly a far cry from his earlier attitude to the ignorant ass of a doctor, the subject of his Capricho no. 40 entitled De que mal morirá?. (Of What Ill Will he Die?). This portrait was evidently admired as a painting or for its subject as two copies were made by Goya's pupil Asencio Julia. It also was singled out for special praise by his friend and biographer Valentin Carderera (1835): 'The canvas in which he portrayed himself on his deathbed, at the moment when the distinguished Dr Arrieta was giving him the draught which restored him to his country and to his numerous admirers, is a work that recalls all the vigour and mastery of his best years. His likeness of himself in agony and the physiognomy of the doctor, animated by the most benevolent expression, are drawn and coloured with the greatest mastery. Throughout the work it seems that Goya was trying to rejuvenate his talent in order to show the extent of his gratitude.'