Picasso’s Old Guitarist Essay

I visited the Art Institute of Chicago and many paintings and pieces of art caught my eye, but I almost lost my breath when I laid my eyes upon Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. I was a good thing that a bench is in front of the painting because I needed to sit down and admire the power that it exuded. The painting is one-dimensional, is flat, and doesn’t have a distinct background to it. It is done in a monochromatic color scheme and depicts a very thin, frail, blind man holding a guitar, which is brown and departs from the blue monochromatic color scheme, who is sitting cross legged and the upper half of his body is bent over.

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This man holds the guitar very close to him as if he didn’t have anything else in the world, which by the looks of him he is poor and might not have any possessions. The painting is part of the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection and is located in Gallery 391A.

The Old Guitarist is an oil on canvas painting with the dimensions of 122. 9 x 82. 6 cm. Pablo Picasso is a Spanish painter and painted it in late 1903 to early 1904. The time period this painting was completed was of great importance because it marked the climax and the closing of Picasso’s blue period. Pablo Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 and passed away on April 8, 1973.

Not only was he a Spanish painter, but he was a sculptor and draughtsman as well. He is one of the most recognized figures in 20th century art. Picasso’s father was an art instructor, so he was trained as an artist as a very young man. He left Spain and went to live in Paris, France. In France he had to struggle to figure where he fit into the society of artists there. Because he identified with those struggling to survive, he began to paint pictures of the downtrodden, depicting them in all of their misery and using different shades of blue – the color of melancholy.

His personal sadness intensified due to the suicide death of his close friend, Casagemas. The period of 1901-1904 became known as the Blue Period. Les Miserables of the Blue Period gave way to the circus figures of the Rose Period which spanned from 1904-1906 and was much more cheerful then the Blue Period. Both the Blue and Rose Periods were precursors to Cubism, which defined much of Picasso’s career. Picasso became a power to be reckoned with in the world of modern art and continued to be an innovator of the highest order for the est of his life.

Picasso’s Blue Period coincided with his own restlessness. From the time period of October 1900 and April 1904, he made four trips from Barcelona to Paris. In Barcelona he lived with his parents, but he saw Paris as an artistic mecca. He began his blue paintings in 1901 while in Paris and his morose period reached an all time high with the suicide death of Carlos Casagemas. He never attended the funeral, but he was so preoccupied with his death that he painted a series of canvases portraying his death, burial, and apotheosis.

These paintings were sacred to him and he kept them in his own private collection. Many have said that Casagemas’s death brought out Picasso’s feelings over the loss of his younger sister Conception when he was fourteen years old. Picasso had immense feelings of guilt over her death and irrationally would blame himself for deaths of others close to him. His full-blown blue style developed at the end of 1901 and early 1902. He abandoned all other colors almost exclusively, no longer followed the brushwork techniques of Vincent van Gogh, and started painting in the technique of Paul Gauguin.

Most of Picasso’s Blue Period artwork featured destitute women, alcoholics, and outcasts of society. The underlying theme of the Blue Period was accusing that the prosperous individuals of society allowed the poverty of others to continue and not extending a hand for those in need. 1903 is when Picasso’s Blue Period reached its height when he painted mournful family groups. The Tragedy is thought of as being the most powerful. It depicts a mother, father, and son who are mourning the death of a loved one.

The setting of the painting looks like it is meant to be the city of Corunna where Picasso’s sister died. The largest of his Blue Period paintings, La Vie, depicts a confrontation between a young couple and an older woman holding a baby. The man in the painting is Casagemas’s, but it was later revealed that Casagemas’s image was painter over Picasso’s. The Old Guitarist represents the segment of the Blue Period that began to depict wretched destitute males in late 1903. These men were almost always shown as being blind or psychotic.

The physiques of these men where slender, ngular, and elongated, which style was similar to El Greco, who was considered somewhat of a hero in Picasso’s artistic circle in Barcelona. The Old Guitarist is unique in the Blue Period because the blind man is “spiritually transported by his creative effort, rather than mired in hopeless passivity. ”. The man seems to use his musical creativity as protection. He seems to be in another world created by his own music/song which may symbolize the joy that Picasso receives from his own work. The power of the old man and his feeling of having everything required are emphasized by Picasso.

Picasso has squeezed him into a frame that does not seem large enough to contain him. One could imagine that the old man would surpass the boundaries of the canvas if he were to raise his head or stretch out his legs. The Old Guitarist gives a sense of constricted power so not only is the old man limited by his blindness but also by the space he is allowed to move in, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. If one looks closely to The Old Guitarist it seems as though that there is another image behind the man. The image does not seem to have been intentionally placed to add any significance to the old man.

The Old Guitarist is one of several of Picasso’s Blue Period paintings were the canvas has been reused. The image in the background is that of a woman which is what Picasso intended to originally paint, but for some reason decided not to and decided to paint over it instead of throwing away a perfectly usable canvas. This is not the only painting in which Picasso decided to reuse the support. Picasso simply painted over the figure of the woman and did not try to add a base layer of paint to cover her up or turn the canvas.

This shows that Picasso had immense concentration when painting that the image of the woman did not distract him. La Vie is the only known Picasso work where it is evident that he turned the canvas 90 degrees. X-rays were taken of many of Picasso’s painting to see what the underlying image was. The Old Guitarist is unique because the complete form of the woman cannot be seen whereas in other paintings there is a complete composition underneath. The young woman’s head, shoulders and long hair are able to be seen without the use of an X-ray.

One could also make out the breasts without an X-ray, but they are less visible. The X-ray is extremely useful when deciphering that below her head, and to her left, a second, more ghost-like female image appears, her head seemingly bowed as though sunk into her chest. The X-rays also reveals an extended left arm, held palm upward, and two bare lower legs and feet. The lower legs and feet are located between the guitarist’s crossed legs. It is not clear from the fragmented evidence which female figure the limbs belong to, nor did which head Picasso draw first.

The layers of paint covering the remainder of the image proved to be resistant to other laboratory techniques that were executed. During late 1903, Picasso seemed quite preoccupied with portraying nudes who extended their arms in gestures similar to that of the woman beneath the guitarist. Several of these drawings appear to have been created as decorations for a fireplace. There are many hypothesized themes as to one could ascertain from this work of art and that is why it is able to speak to many people on different levels. After all the research I did on this painting, I see the guitarist being Picasso.

Some have said that the guitarist is Casagemas and that the guitar is the female form and psychology. When Casagemas committed suicide he did it in front of the women he loved. I see it as just as the guitarist was absorbed in his creativity, so was Picasso. Picasso dedicated his life for his craft. The painting also can be seen as a self fulfilling prophecy since Picasso lived a long life being an artist. In Picasso’s Self-Portrait of 1972 that was sketched with pencil and crayon, he draws himself resembling the guitarist. This piece is so powerful because Picasso identifies himself with the old guitarist.

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