Thursday 23 August 2012, 12:03
But it was only when he narrowly survived an automobile accident in Western Australia in 1999 that Robert was impelled to act on that fascination by writing a book and making a film for BBC Four about his hero.
Bob described to me how, while recuperating from the collision which kept him in a coma for five weeks and in hospital for more than six months, he dreamt about Goya.
Goya painted and drew the Duchess over the years, sometimes in very intimate settings
Click on the first clip at the top of this post for his description of Goya's great history painting The Third of May, a work which to Bob was "one of the great pictures of all time by anybody."
Watch it once and then run through it again with your eyes closed. As much as Bob thrived in the visual medium of television to illuminate the visual medium of art, his skill was to remind us that great television is as much about words as it is about images.
Somehow Bob was able to transport us to the artist's own time, to the moment Goya put paint to canvas, while also conveying precisely why the finished work should matter to all of us here and now.
Bob was never afraid to confront the question: why does art matter? It was a question he addressed in everything he wrote and spoke, even if his answers were not always comfortable to hear.
At the end of his film about Goya, Bob admits the futility of trying to sum up the artist and his work in a tidy phrase. But he absolutely nails why Goya should matter to us now.
Our inability to measure up to the "peculiar intensity" of Goya's art might be sadly depleted today, he says, but if that is what Goya shows us, at least he shows us something.
Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.
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