The Old Guitarist (1903) Pablo Picasso

The Old Guitarist (1903)
Pablo Picasso
adapted from
The Old Guitarist (1903) - Pablo Picasso
The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death
of Picasso's close friend, Casagemas. During this time, the artist was
sympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden and painted many
canvases depicting the miseries of the poor, the ill, and those cast
out of society. He too knew what it was like to be impoverished,
having been nearly penniless during all of 1902. This work was
created in Madrid, and the distorted style (note that the upper
torso of the guitarist seems to be reclining, while the bottom half
appears to be sitting cross-legged) is reminiscent of the works of El
The Old Guitarist (1903) - Pablo Picasso
This bent and sightless man holds close to him a large, round guitar.
Its brown body represents the painting's only shift in color. Both
physically and symbolically, the instrument fills the space around
the solitary figure, who seems oblivious to his blindness and
poverty as he plays. At the time the painting was made, literature of
the Symbolist movement included blind characters who possessed
powers of inner vision. The thin, skeleton-like figure of the blind
musician also has roots in art from Picasso's native country, Spain.
The old man's elongated limbs and cramped, angular posture recall
the figures of the great 16th-century artist El Greco.
The Old Guitarist (1903) - Pablo Picasso
The technical examinations, combined with art-historical research,
revealed two earlier compositions underneath the image of The Old
Guitarist. This information gives us a better understanding of
Picasso's artistic process.
The painting is also notable for the ghostly presence of a
mysterious image painted underneath. It is very likely that Picasso
originally started painting a portrait of a woman, who appears to
possibly be seated, and in an upset or worried mood. Not much of
this image is visible except for her face and legs.
The Old Guitarist (1903) - Pablo Picasso
A perfect companion piece is Wallace Stevens's poem, "The Man
with the Blue Guitar." The poet puts words to Picasso's belief that
art is the lie to help us see the truth. Stevens writes:
They said, 'You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.'
The man replied, 'Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'
As a metaphor for the need to immerse oneself fully in one's grief in
order to heal, Denise Levertov's poem, “Talking to Grief” is also
apropos. This painting is now located at Art Institute of Chicago in
the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
additional links
Wallace Stevens “The Man With The Blue Guitar”!/2
Denise Levertov's poem, “Talking to Grief”