The Old Guitarist (The Blind Guitarist)

Picasso, Pablo

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Apr-04-1997
  • Last revised: Jul-13-2007


Draped in blue rags, an emaciated old guitarist sits cross-legged, strumming his guitar in a desolate setting. He is WRAPPED in his music and grief. Like the blind prophet, Tiresias in the Greek tragedies, he has seen all and knows the tragic destination of our strivings--all result in loneliness and death. Painted in Barcelona, the distorted style is reminiscent of the drama found in Spanish religious painting, particularly that of El Greco. The melancholy and pathos of Picasso's works from his Blue period reflect his sadness at the suicide of his young friend, Casagemas.


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 (see this database) is also apropos.

Picasso's Blue (and Rose) Periods are preambles to Cubism. The artist wrote off his early Blue Period paintings (painted when he was 22) as nothing but sentiment. Also of interest are his many renderings in oil on cardboard and canvas, or black chalk on paper, of the dead Casagemas in his coffin [e.g. "Head of the Dead Casagemas," "Casagemas in his Coffin," "The Burial of Casagemas" ("Evocation")], painted in 1901, and the Blue Period classics: "The Blind Beggar," "El Loco" ("The Madman"), "La Vie," and "Tragedy"--painted in 1903.


Painted in 1903.

Primary Source

Art Institute of Chicago