The Old Guitarist

Pablo Picasso (1903)

This doesnt look like the work of an impulsive 21-year-old; one of the reasons it takes our breath away is its profound sympathy for the plight of an emaciated, almost phantom old musician. His elongated, skeletal neck, fingers and feet betray poverty and malnourishment: we can almost taste his hunger. Meanwhile his face – practically a death mask – recalls the noble spirituality of an El Greco saint: Picasso was acutely aware of the past, and plundered it liberally. The subdued colour scheme of his Blue Period (possibly inspired by the suicide of his dear friend Casagemas, aged just 21) adds to the impression of a man hollowed out by circumstance and time. The suffocating air seems to fill the picture like water in a fish tank, which might explain why he feebly holds on to the guitar like a drowning man to a life raft. Only the guitar points optimistically heavenwards – contrasted with the heavy, earthbound physical discomfort of the mans pose – offering harmony and hope against despair and oblivion.