Pablo Picasso painted “The Old Guitarist” in 1903, during his blue period. In this phase of his career, he depicted outcasts of society. He limited his use of color so that the paintings of the blue period, or Periodo Azul are nearly monochromatic. Just two years earlier, he lost his friend Casagemas to suicide. Casagemas shot himself in the head because of an unrequited love. The lack of color in this period is a manifestation of Picasso’s sadness. Picasso resided in Paris, yet his works evidenced more Spanish influence in this period.
“The Old Guitarist” depicts an elderly blind man in torn clothing playing the guitar. It may have been based on a beggar who lived in Barcelona. Contemporary artists were using blind men with powers of inner vision as symbols.
One can easily compare “The Old Guitarist” to another Picasso work of this period, “The Blind Man’s Meal.” That work similarly depicts suffering with the same monochromatic palette of the Periodo Azul. Yet its use of bread and wine are suggestive of Communion thus evoking religious themes absent in “The Old Guitarist.”
Picasso drew on two famous artists in the composition of this work: El Greco and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. El Greco was an artist of the Spanish Renaissance who painted around three hundred years before Picasso. Picasso borrowed elements of structural analysis, refraction, highlights and interweaving of form and space from El Greco. Picasso learned about elements of spatial diagonals and strong line patterns from Toulouse-Lautrec.
Picasso transitioned from his Blue Period to his Rose Period during which he used pinks, reds, and oranges in his paintings. This was a more joyful time for him. His works evidenced more French influence in this period. Unlike the Blue Period, in which Picasso painted beggars, the Rose Period featured clowns and circus performers.
In 1998, researchers using x-rays and infrared light discovered two hidden compositions within this painting. One is of a mother and child. The other is of a cow licking the head of a small calf.
Visitors to Chicago and locals can see this Picasso painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.