The authenticity of this small, unsigned, sketchlike painting has been much debated and thoroughly studied. When Jens Thiis, the director of the National Gallery, wrote about Christian Langaard’s collection in 1913, there was no doubt in his mind that the painting was by Francisco Goya. Other art historians, however, were not equally convinced. An important piece of evidence turned up in 1960, when later coatings were removed from the front and back of the picture, bringing to light the inscriptions “X.9” and “G. X.9”, which refer to the inventory of Goya’s estate in 1812. Six related paintings are known to us with the same markings, and four of these paintings evidently constitute a series. Moreover, technical analyses of the museum’s painting show that it may well stem from Goya’s era. And although neither Goya’s verified ownership of the painting nor technical inspections prove that it was in fact painted by the master himself, they are significant pieces of circumstantial evidence, as are the painting’s technique and artistic qualities. Consequently, most experts today believe that the National Museum’s painting is genuine.
Goya was active for many years and highly productive as a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker, and his many works feature a variety of themes and styles. Night Scene from the Inquisition is part of a group of smaller paintings that Goya executed con amore, that is, because the topic interested him rather than because the painting was commissioned. Both as a visual narrative and as a painting per se it is influenced by Goya’s keen interest in the grim fate that befell many people during his lifetime. The museum’s painting shows monks, soldiers, and convicted prisoners in white robes, probably on their way to the site of their execution.
Text: Sidsel Helliesen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0