Goya began his artistic career at the age of fourteen (1760) when he became an apprentice in the workshop of the Zaragoza painter Jose Luzán. There he learnt the rudiments of paintings and drawing, copying still lifes and devotional works. While trying with little luck to obtain a grant to study in Madrid, Goya painted to commission for the Jesuits, the Hospitallers and members of the Aragonese nobility. His ecclesiastical clients helped him to make his journey to Italy in 1771, where he undertook studies of a classical nature with mythological or conventional themes as subject matter. After his return from Italy, Goya went back to Zaragoza. He painted some interesting religious works in churches in Muel, Calatayud and Remolinos,and in the palace of the Duke of Sobradiel. Outstanding works of the period would include the paintings in the chapel of the Carthusian monastery of the Aula Dei, and the painting in the Coreto (little choir) of the Basilica del Pilar, both in Zaragoza. These works and the backing of his tutor Francisco Bayeu, whose sister Goya had married in 1773, opened the doors to the Court in Madrid.
In 1774 he was chosen as a painter of tapestry cartoons (paintings made to be used as models for tapestry makers) for the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara. From 1775 to 1791 Goya painted sixty three cartoons that were designs for tapestries in the El Escorial and El Pardo palaces. While at court he became familiar with the work of Velazquez, whom he studied in detail by copying his work in oils and in an excellent series of etchings. Goya learnt from Velazquez the secret of portrait painting, a genre in which he would later become an expert. In 1780 Goya entered the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Francisco with a painting of Christ on The Cross. His fellow Aragonese brother-in-law's influence led to Goya receiving the commission for the work on the Basilica del Pilar, an honour usually reserved for the best painters of the period. In this work, the cause of bitter arguments between Goya, Bayeu and the clients, Goya broke with the conventions of neo-Classicism and consolidated his highly original vision. He then returned to Madrid where, on a dizzying rise to fame he worked on portraits, designs and religious paintings.
In the final decade of the century, Goya became aware of the grotesque shifts in the socio-political climate. He suffered a grave illness in 1792 which left him completely deaf. His experiences of that time matured his work and led him to adopt a more critical point of view. The series of copperplate etchings made in 1794 marked a new phase in Goya's pictorial development. Portrait painting, his principal source of income, gained a new vigour and authenticity. His new way of painting affected his religious work, as can be seen in the frescos in the church of San Antonio de Florida (Madrid, 1798). At the beginning of the 19th century, Goya began to work on highly Romanticist subjects, such as contemporary stories. Examples are The Capture of El Maragato, scenes of witchcraft, the political role of the people, the famous Second of May. Also notable in his work is his fascination, albeit highly critical, with violence. Another grave illness in 1819 brought about a new phase in the artist's oeuvre. The fruits of this new change in direction were the highly enigmatic paintings in his country house, the Quinta del Sordo (the House of the Deaf Man), where Goya took immediacy to extremes, creating a horrifying, hallucinatory world of imagery.
Goya felt obliged to leave Spain in the midst of the repression unleashed by Fernando VII after the French invasion. He moved to and settled down in France where he painted new portraits and some works on the subject of bullfighting. The painting The Milkmaid of Bordeaux marks the end of the artistic career of a man who, at the very end of his life, was still faithful to his motto: Still learning.
Extracted from InfoGoya