Saturday, April 12, 2008

Candle Hat

Candle Hat

by Billy Collins, Questions About Angels, 1991

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrandt looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Samson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
then laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in," he would say, "I was just painting myself, "
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

***Francisco Goya, Self-Portrait, 1790-95


  1. What a wonderful painting. He's so dark against that soft light. I've not seen this one before, thank you for this charming post Willow!

  2. Hi Willow...What an incredibly delightful and entertaining post. I have enjoyed it completely..and I mean every word. What a character Goya might have been. I am always impressed that these famous painters were so young and to be so amazingly talented..Thank you Willow....

  3. The tonal values in his work are masterful.

    Very nice post to read this morning...

  4. Hi Willow, is it my imagination or is that a new background colour you have? I like it.

    I am only very slightly familiar with the works of Goya; but this painting and post are intriguing; I'll have to 'google' him and see what comes up.



  5. I just saw your quote at the end of your blog. I love You've Got Mail!

  6. I would visit 'the shop around the conner' every day (except I would also need coffee). I would wonder through the store, pick up books, flip through them, barrow one, and then sit and read some of it by the window while simultaneously listening to the store workers daily conversations.

  7. Rachel...yes, and it must be fall...and lots of bouquets of sharpened pencils filling the shop with their lovely scent! ;)

  8. LL...yes! New background color...I love it...what do you think? Similar to the color of the bedroom walls. Softer than the grey!

  9. That's one amazing hat....I am familiar with some of Goya's work, but this is the first time I've seen his self portrait and his ingenious candle hat!

  10. You've Got Mail- "I wanted it to be you, I wanted it to be you so badly."

    I love that line!

  11. Yes, and that's my cue to cry...

  12. Willow, is that Inspector Clousseau peeking out at us? Suspecting no-one and everyone? I sense a Pink Panther post coming on? I hope so....

  13. Oh Willow, coming across the Peter Sellers picture like that made me laugh out loud! A wonderful touch.

  14. LL and BP, I love this postcard of Peter Sellers, from the film "The World of Henry Orient"...thought it was perfect with my "blogs I stalk" sidebar. ;)

  15. I am so impressed with your postings concerning art form. You truly have a knowledge and love for art. Thanks for sharing this new-to-me painter. Have a great week!

  16. I could have sworn you were English from your self-description. Who mentions Mrs. Dalloway here in the US? ...Apparently, you do. Found you in a search for "Goya self-portraits."


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)