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Work Man Carrying A Huge Load

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Grollemund Hélène

This folio belongs to the group of sketches from Album F that conveys the timelessness of everyday life in Spain. No other sketch expresses a sense of loneliness and dejection as forcefully. By focusing our interest on the massive burden that dwarfs the figure carrying it, his anonymity accentuated by the thick shadows engulfing him, Goya imbues an apparently commonplace scene with an intensely dramatic quality, so much so that it can be intepreted as a symbol of the human condition.

Private albums

Until the end of his life, Goya produced sketches in albums in which he treated a very large number of social issues or political satires. These collections of drawings were the equivalents of private diaries, and he kept them secret. Like two other drawings in the Louvre (The Widow [RF 38980] and Couple in a Landscape [RF 40989]), this drawing belongs to Album F, known as the sepia wash album. This was Goya's last album; the drawings were done entirely with a brush and sepia ink and had no captions, unlike in previous albums. The first nineteen folios have traces of wax hidden by bits of paper, but the artist either disregarded these flaws or made them a part of his compositions. The themes of the drawings are varied and all kinds of people are depicted, often in outdoor scenes.

A multifaceted theme

The image of the man carrying a load recurs elsewhere in the album, but here Goya depicts a lone figure almost entirely obscured by the shadow of his upper body and the shadow cast both by his body and the burden he carries, which is in fact represented by a single pale spot of color. Comparisons have been made with an engraving by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718) based on The Cries of the City of Bologna by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), or with the myth of Atlas condemned to hold up the sky for all eternity. The work also evokes the atlantes that decorated so many palaces. Investing a contemporary lower-class figure with a mythological dimension is not surprising in the work of Goya, who already alluded to classical mythology in The Caprices (Caprice 9: Tantalus). It is therefore possible to interpret these drawings as an "updating" of ancient themes, superimposing a mythological allusion onto a contemporary figure, and in a sense leaving a symbolic distance between the tangible reality of the event depicted and the tragic dimension that may underline it.

A universal meaning

Here, metaphor transfigures a commonplace scene or image into something with universal significance, as often happens in Goya's work. Whether the figure is inspired by mythology or is simply a portrait of a peasant from the countryside around Madrid, he remains a symbol of the human condition, of the burden weighing on the shoulders of mankind. The lonely figure, its thick and heavy shape starkly outlined against the white background, is a metaphor of the futility of this burden, reflected by the fact that it has no real weight, dissolving into a pale patch of color within the void of the shadow. Goya's pessimism and sense of the harshness of the human condition, especially in the Spain of Ferdinand VII (1784-1833), is much in evidence here. The artist's keen observation of everyday life is blended here, perhaps more than elsewhere, with a tragic awareness of history. This is reflected more closely again in the Black Paintings on which he was working at the same time and with which he covered the walls of his house, the Quinta del Sordo, on the outskirts of Madrid.


Barjot-Faux Véronique, in Greenaway Peter (sous la dir. de), Le Bruit des nuages, Exposition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 3 novembre 1992-1er février 1993, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, coll. "Parti pris", 1992, n 2.Boubli Lizzie, Inventaire général des dessins, école espagnole, XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984, n 199.Sérullaz Arlette, in Acquisitions du Cabinet des dessins : 1973-1983. 81e exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Paris, musée du Louvre, 16 mars-4 juin 1984, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984, n 158.

Technical description

  • Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Fuenderodos, 1746-Bordeaux, 1828)

    Man Carrying A Huge Load

    Circa 1812-23

  • Scraper, brush, and sepia ink wash over a black chalk outline onwhite laid paper

    H. 20.3 cm; W. 14.3 cm

  • Javier Goya y Bayeu, son fils, 1828 ; Mariano Goya y Goicoechea, 1854 ; Federico de Madrazo et/ou Roman Garreta y Huerta, vers 1855-1860 ; Paris, Paul Lebas ; vente publique Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 3 avril 1877, n 59 ; baron Maurice de Beurnonville ; vente publique de Beurnonville, Paris, 16-19 février 1885, lot 49 ; Paris, Émile Calando ; vente publique Émile Calando, Paris, 11-12 décembre 1899, lot 70 ; Jacques Dubourg ; offert en dation en paiement de droits de succession, 1982

    RF 38976

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

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