Capricho No. 51: They spruce themselves up
Los caprichos are a set of 80 prints in aquatint and etching created by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in 1797 and 1798, and published as an album in 1799. The prints were an artistic experiment: a medium for Goya's condemnation of the universal follies and foolishness in the Spanish society in which he lived. The criticisms are far-ranging and acidic; he speaks against the predominance of superstition, the ignorance and inabilities of the various members of the ruling class, pedagogical short-comings, marital mistakes and the decline of rationality. Some of the prints have anticlerical themes. Goya described the series as depicting "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual.
The work was an enlightened, tour-de-force critique of 18th-century Spain, and humanity in general. The informal style, as well as the depiction of contemporary society found in Caprichos, makes them (and Goya himself) a precursor to the modernist movement almost a century later. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters in particular has attained an iconic status.
Goya added brief explanations of each image to a manuscript, now in the Museo del Prado; these help greatly to explain his often cryptic intentions, as do the titles printed below each image.
Goya's series, and the last group of prints in his series The Disasters of War, which he called "caprichos enfáticos" ("emphatic caprices"), are far from the spirit of light-hearted fantasy the term "caprice" usually suggests in art.