The Old Guitarist – by Pablo Picasso
Late 1903–early 1904 / Oil on panel
Location: the Art Institute of Chicago [Modern/Contemporary Wing]
From the AIC website.. [click here..] Pablo Picasso produced The Old Guitarist, one of his most haunting images, while working in Barcelona. In the paintings of his Blue Period (1901–04), of which this is a prime example, Picasso restricted himself to a cold, monochromatic blue palette; flattened forms; and the emotional, psychological themes of human misery and alienation, which are related to the Symbolist movement and the work of such artists as Edvard Munch.
From the AIC website.. [click here..] Picasso presented The Old Guitarist as a timeless expression of human suffering. The bent and sightless man holds his large, round guitar close to him; its brown body is the painting’s only shift in color. The elongated, angular figure of the blind musician relates to Picasso’s interest in the history of Spanish art and, in particular, the great sixteenth-century artist El Greco. Most personally, however, the image reflects the struggling twenty-two-year-old Picasso’s sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden; he knew what it was like to be poor, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902. His works from this time depict the miseries of the destitute, the ill, and the outcasts of society.
The painting becomes much more interesting, when we learn what lies beneath this painting..
It is easy to spot a face staring from beneath the surface
[image below, see two eyes, just above the back-of-the-neck of the guitarist]
One of the highlights of the exhibition: “Picasso and Chicago”, was a segment called “Inside Picasso”, which showed interesting trivia behind many of Picasso’s paintings, like “The Old Guitarist”, “Mother and Child”, “The Red Armchair”, “Head of a Woman” and more..
In this post, we concentrate on The Old Guitarist [which is one of my favorite paintings by Picasso!]
Visible in raking light, the ghostly image of a woman staring at from beneath the surface of Picasso’s Old Guitarist prompted the Art Institute’s Conservation department to investigate this iconic painting. X-radiography revealed two distinct underlying compositions..The first depicts an elderly woman seated with her head down and arm outstretched. A second composition, painted on the first, shows a younger woman seated with a small kneeling boy and two cows.
Below is the details of the techniques used to discover the underlying paintings..
The Old Guitarist – by Pablo Picasso .. And.. What lies Beneath
Images from the slideshow at the exhibition “Chicago and Picasso”.
The X-radiograph with annotation:
The first depicts an elderly woman seated with her head down and arm outstretched. [shown in green on X-ray]
A second composition, painted on the first, shows a younger woman seated with a small kneeling boy and two cows [shown in red on X-ray]
In 1902/03 Picasso made a drawing of a female figure in a pose similar to the woman in the first painting composition [image above]. Later, he sketched an image of a mother and child in a letter to Max Jacob [image below] which mentions that he was in the process of painting this image. The sketch includes color notations rouge [red] for the background and blue for the sky. Microscopic cross section of the painting show that the image of mother and child once included a bright red layer which is now sandwiched between blue layer from the composition of the old woman below and The Old Guitarist above. The sample shows that Picasso painted the composition directly one above the other. He used similar pigments in all three paintings including Prussian blue. ultramarine, vermillion, viridian and cadmium yellow, mixed in varying proportions and often applied in multiple layers.