Pablo Picasso pained The Old Guitarist in 1903, during what most art historians would call his “blue period.” It features an old man, apparently suffering from poverty, hunched over and strumming his guitar. The painting is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it is currently on display.
When viewed with the naked eye, you’ll only actually see the figure described above. Advanced analysis, though, using infrared and x-ray technologies, has revealed three additional figures in the painting. These include an unidentified animal, thought to be a sheep or calf, a woman with long, flowing hair, and a child.
When the analysis was completed by the Art Institute of Chicago, they shared their findings with the Museum of Art in Cleveland. It was then found that the figures identified beneath the top most layer of the painting were virtually identical to those found in a sketch that Picasso had shared with a friend in a letter.
It’s never been discovered why Picasso abandoned the original painting in favor of The Old Guitarist, or if the original composition behind the man was left intentionally. It is worth noting that those who are aware that the painting is atop this old composition can clearly identify the faint traces of the woman’s face over the man’s shoulder, as well as several components indicating the presence of the child and the animal.
Some art historians have made controversial claims that this was intentional. They postulate that The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso is a man who has failed in life, with the spectre’s of his family looming in his past. He strums at his guitar woefully, longing for the opportunity to live his life differently. There is, however, no indication that this is historically accurate.
Instead, the generally accepted interpretation of the meaning of the painting is based around the primary focus – the guitar. Picasso accomplished this by using a monochromatic theme throughout the painting, being only broken by the brown of the guitar. It is thought that the guitarist is destitute and playing as a means of earning a meager living. Because of this, the one thing that brings him joy (music and art) has now become a burden. Of course, the interpretation of The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso is ultimately limited to speculation. The artist is no longer alive and able to confirm or deny our suspicions. One thing that can be said, for sure, though, is that he had every intention of creating a melancholic scene and therefore intentionally chose the monochromatic blues that we see in the painting.
Additionally, this is known to be one of the first paintings during the artist’s Blue Period. He had abandoned his traditional education and techniques in art in favor of new and emerging trends, including symbolism, impressionism, and modernism. He did so because he was hoping to find world-wide fame as an artist. Many of the common traits of these styles can be clearly identified in the painting.
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