The Parasol, by Spanish court painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was commissioned by the future King Charles IV and Maria Luisa of Parma, in 1777 for their dining room in the Royal Palace of El Pardo in Madrid.
As such, this painting of oil on linen depicts a scene of leisure in which the seated lady is shielded from the bluster of an upcoming storm, as the clouds in the upper left show. Her attendant’s dress is of the majo or poorer class.
The lady cheerfully looks out at the viewer with a sleeping cat on her lap. Goya’s choice of coloring rhymes with the overall mood of gaiety with golds and light blues.
Goya was an official court painter to the Spanish Crown from 1786 and dedicated his time to creating works for the various Royal Palaces.
The Parasol (c. 1777) belongs to Francisco Goya’s series of tapestries (oils on linen) created by the queen’s commission for the Royal Palace of El Pardo in Madrid.
This so-called cartoon (from the Spanish cartón) on tapestry shows a young couple. Both of them are dressed according to particular fashions of the age.
She is attired in the French style, with colorful silks which dominate the sky-blue shirt with the large frilly bow on the chest and the broad, gold-colored dress below.
In her left hand, she holds a fan. He, instead, is dressed like a majo, a peasant, or a poor commoner, with clothes that are in fact good quality and carefully picked.
It is the fashion of majismo; the word has an important recurrence in Goya’s oeuvre in the Maja vestida/Maja desnuda pair (1800-1805).
The young man — likely the gentlewoman’s chaperone — is holding a parasol to protect the young lady from the sun, although the wind, too, appears to have picked up behind them.
The wall beside which she has chosen to sit may in fact be what screens her from the onslaught of the wind and makes the use of a parasol sensible (in strong wind, it would be unhandy to hold above the lady’s head, if it would not sooner fly off or break).
Even as we intuit that a storm may be in the offing, we appreciate the warmth conjured up by the cheerfulness of this softly beautiful pair.
The warm hues of their dress, supported by the radiant light in the right-hand section of the panel, concur with this impression of peaceful contentment. And that is precisely what the Queen Maria Luisa of Parma had envisioned for these decorative tapestries intended for her dining room.
In 1770s Spain, the fashion for rococo had begun to vie with the new fashion for the Neoclassical.
The well-structured set of elements in this cartoon — wall, parasol and fan, lady, young man and dog, forest — is conceptually classicist. The lady, with the help of her broad dress and thanks to the outstretching of her left hand, creates an almost perfect equilateral triangle. Her face is the focal point of the composition.
Francisco Goya’s The Parasol can be found in the El Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain