This impressive figure is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), or simply Francisco Goya, the Spanish artist who left an ind...

Francisco Goya: bulls, milkmaids and a lasting presence in Bordeaux

This impressive figure is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), or simply Francisco Goya, the Spanish artist who left an indelible mark on Bordeaux, having spent the last four years of his life in the city.

The bronze statue is a replica of the 1902 work by Mariano Benlliure which stands outside the Goya entrance to the Museo del Prado in Madrid. It was a gift from the city of Madrid (one of the twin cities of Bordeaux) in March 1995 and was originally positioned in the Jardin Public. In 2008, the statue was relocated to Place du Chapelet, just outside the main entrance to Cour Mably and just metres away from Notre-Dame church, where Goya’s funeral took place. 

Goya's final living quarters in Bordeaux were just a little further south on the third floor of number 57, Cours de l’Intendance, the now-pedestrianised boulevard that forms the southern flank of the affluent so-called Triangle d’Or quarter (the golden triangle). Aptly, the residence is now the Cervantes Institute Spanish cultural centre. Prior to that, he had also spent time on Rue de la Croix-Blanche and Rue Saint-Seurin, both of which are in the vicinity.

It was in 1824 that Goya chose to flee Spain, where he had pursued an illustrious career as painter by royal appointment. On the grounds of ill health (he was reportedly “
deaf, clumsy, and weak”) but also for political reasons (rejecting the oppressive rule of Ferdinand VII), he relocated to Bordeaux with his much younger partner and nurse Leocadia Weiss and her daughter Rosario. Goya’s wife Josefa Baye had died in 1812 – later there were to be clashes between Goya’s legitimate family and the Weiss clan.

In Bordeaux, Goya settled in with a circle of politically liberal friends, hanging out in local bookshops and at a chocolate makers called Braulio Broc (on Rue Huguerie), and went on to produce pieces including a series of large lithographic prints depicting scenes of bullfighting known as the “Bulls of Bordeaux”. 

Lithography was a fairly recent invention but Goya had mastered the technique with the help of the Bordeaux lithographer and printer Cyprien Gaulon, whose workshop was on Rue Saint-Rémi. According to The Frick Collection’s website, to create the “Bulls of Bordeaux”, Goya “adapted the technique [of lithography] to his own ends. He placed the lithographic stone upright on an easel and created the scene with a blunt crayon and then scraped away areas to make highlights. Nowhere is Goya's irrepressible verve more evident than in his drawings, the favourite medium of his last years”.

One of Goya’s most famous works, “The Milkmaid of Bordeaux”, was also executed in Bordeaux, soon after a final trip to Madrid and shortly before he died. By this time, Goya’s health was ailing and his arms trembled constantly. How he managed to produce such a stunning piece is a source of much debate and controversy. 

It is widely believed that the painting depicts the aforementioned  Leocadia Weiss or indeed Rosario, a young lady that Goya is said to have watched over as if she were his daughter – some think she might actually have been his daughter. One popular theory today is that the picture was in fact a joint production with Rosario or perhaps even painted by Rosario herself, under the guidance of Goya... but this appears unlikely when the style is compared with the other paintings she produced. Meanwhile, purists maintain that the picture was indeed painted by Goya and, as originally thought, features one of the maids who, on donkeyback, would deliver milk to the household in Bordeaux.

After his death aged 82 on April 16th 1828 (having failed to recover from falling down the stairs at his
Cours de l’Intendance residence), Goya was buried in a tomb in the Chartreuse cemetery in central Bordeaux alongside his compatriot Martin Goicocchea, a former mayor of Madrid and father-in-law to Goya's son Javier. In 1899, both bodies were exhumed to be transferred back to Spain. Neither body could be formally identified. For a start, Goya's head had disappeared! It is believed that it was stolen by one of Goya's former models, the Marques de San Adrian, who may have sought to understand the workings of Goya's brain by doing some "hands-on" research. Goya's head was never to be found. The two bodies were transported in a single coffin and buried with others first in Saragosse then transferred to a joint mausoleum at the Royal Chapel of Saint Anthony of La Florida in Madrid.

The four years spent in Bordeaux inspired "Goya en Burdeos", a 1999 Spanish historical drama film written and directed by Carlos Saura. Although set in Bordeaux, the film is constructed around flashbacks enabling Goya to relive key periods in his life, with "each of his reveries becoming tableaux of his paintings" according to the film's IMDb page.

Goya’s remains may be back in Spain but his presence lives on in Bordeaux: there are streets and schools named after him, and a prominent cenotaph (pictured above) has been erected in the cemetery which was his resting place for 71 years. And, for almost 20 years, the bullring in the suburb of Floirac was known as Plaza de Goya. The homage lives on in the apartment block which has been built in its place: the building is called Résidence Plaza de Goya. Finally, the Cervantes Institute has mapped out a Goya walk in Bordeaux, and this fine video clip gives a taste of what can be seen on the route:


  1. All information that I did not know about Goya, thanks for bringing this subject up and sharing it. Diane

  2. Great post Tim. Very informative. I forward to subsequent posts. Keep up the good work!