Goya described his subject as a merienda, the word used by the Spanish for our word picnic. Currently, merienda is considered a snack or a light meal. However, Goya’s merienda is not a snack, and the Museo del Prado has retitled it The Picnic.
Though Goya insisted this subject of this merienda was his invention, merienda, a light meal or snack, already had a history in Spain and France. Merienda first appears as a snack in the picaresque novel The Life of Lazarillo De Tormes (1554), then as an alfresco lunch in the first volume of Cervantes Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605), and Quevedo’s El Buscon [The Thief] (1626). Goya was aware of the French vogue for hunt picnics, repas de pique-niques, popularized by Watteau and others, and he adapted their aristocratic subjects for more ordinary people.
Selecting from his resources, Goya’s merienda presents us with a convivial group of four mojos and a woman sitting around a white picnic cloth on the hillside above the river at a picnic. The woman in blue seems dreamy as she sips wine and ignores the young men, majos, who based on their clothing, suggest theatrical stock figures, such as an aristocrat, soldier, hunter, etc. who are seemingly drunk and flirting with a young woman, Maja, carrying a basket of oranges, which may be a prostitute an innocent. Nevertheless, two men lift their tumblers to toast her beauty while she coolly regards them, perhaps embarrassed by their effrontery. Her hand points towards the backside of a dog chewing. Perhaps a joke?
Featured Image: Merienda a orillas del Manzanares
See Francesco de Goya. La Merienda a orillas del Manzanares [aka The Picnic or The Picnic at the Edge of the Manzanares River] (1776), oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid; Janis A. Tomlinson. Francisco Goya; the Tapestry Cartoons and Early Career at the Court of Madrid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
* Goya’s other picnic paintings are La Goya’s Pradera de San Isidro [The Meadow of Saint Isidor] in the Museo Nacional del Prado, and A Picnic in the National Gallery, London