He Can No Longer at the Age of 98

Goya, Francisco

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Brush and ink

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Dec-28-2006


An old man stands alone, accompanied only by his shadow. His bent body caves under some unknown force, and the man tries his best to remain upright by relying on two canes, one held in each hand. Facing to the front left of the paper, the old man appears to be on his way to some destination; his feet are not drawn with any suggestion of movement, however, and so it appears that despite his intentions, the old man cannot accomplish the simple goal of walking.

Beneath the illustration read the words that constitute the artwork’s title: “He Can No Longer at the Age of 98.” The vagueness of the text’s meaning allows the viewer to indulge a multitude of imaginings of what specifically the man can no longer do – he cannot walk, cannot function, cannot survive independently, he cannot do most anything. Drawn and painted without color, Goya’s lonely and impotent old man offers a bleak outlook on severe old age.


This artwork, created 1819-23, was made near the end of Goya’s life (1746-1828). A highly capable and well-respected man, Goya was the leading Spanish painter and etcher of the late 18th century. He functioned as court painter to Charles III, Charles IV and Ferdinand VII of Spain. After a severe illness, he became deaf in 1792. In 1824, Goya retired into hermitage in Bordeaux, France, dying four years later.

Although the old man depicted in this artwork is significantly older than Goya was at the time of his painting – in 1819 Goya was 73 – it nevertheless seems clear that a great deal of introspection fuels the sadness and powerlessness of this image. The artwork raises powerful questions of how one should deal with the inevitable decline in abilities brought on by old age. What effect on the self-image does aging and decrepitude have, even for those in society like Goya who have secured their place in history? How can one age to the point of total frailty yet retain one’s happiness and joie de vivre? An interesting companion piece might be Maya Angelou’s poem, “The Last Decision” (cf this database).

Primary Source

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles