A sick woman (dying mother) in a comfortably made-up bed serenely occupies the center of the canvas's diagonal composition. She lies between a seated doctor focused on his hand-held watch while he takes her pulse, and a nun who holds the woman's child and extends her a drink (tea, medicine). The simple, calm, orderliness of the sparse setting is echoed in the postures and countenances of the four figures.

In his biographical study, Robert Maillard documents that Picasso's father--art teacher and model who posed as the doctor--worked out both the composition and the title of the painting for his 16-year-old son (Picasso. New York: Tudor, 1972, p. 180).

An earlier watercolor draft of this work sketches the child with arms outstretched reaching forward to the sick mother. In the draft, the physician and nun, too, are more concerned with the mother's condition. Though strengthening the allegorical significance of this academic composition, the dramatic intensity is lessened if not lost in the final version (1897), which was awarded an honorable mention in Madrid and a gold medal at the Exposición de Bellas Artes in Málaga.


This work is an excellent visual trigger to initiate discussion of contemporary hospice care and palliative medicine. The physician's presence models both non-abandonment and continuity of care. Pain control, social, spiritual, and comfort care are clearly present elements especially when contrasted with Layton's The Courtroom, or Tooker's Corporate Decision (see annotations in this database).

Further fascinating juxtapositions would be David's The Death of Socrates (jailor averting his eyes extending hemlock drink); Fildes's The Doctor (home setting, cup of medicine, or tea on table behind doctor) who gazes intently on the dying child; and Greutze's The Paralytic (at home surrounded by family and dog, being offered nourishment). See this database for annotations of these three paintings, with links to the online art.


Spanish title: Ciència I caritat. At the online site, choose section 3 (Barcelona, 1895-1897), image 3.

Primary Source

Museo Picasso, Barcelona, Spain