The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death of Picasso's close friend, Casagemas. During this time, the artist was sympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden and painted many canvases depicting the miseries of the poor, the ill, and those cast out of society. He too knew what it was like to be impoverished, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902. This work was created in Madrid, and the distorted style (note that the upper torso of the guitarist seems to be reclining, while the bottom half appears to be sitting cross-legged) is reminiscent of the works of El Greco.
This bent and sightless man holds close to him a large, round guitar. Its brown body represents the painting's only shift in color. Both physically and symbolically, the instrument fills the space around the solitary figure, who seems oblivious to his blindness and poverty as he plays. At the time the painting was made, literature of the Symbolist movement included blind characters who possessed powers of inner vision. The thin, skeletonlike figure of the blind musician also has roots in art from Picasso's native country, Spain. The old man's elongated limbs and cramped, angular posture recall the figures of the great 16th-century artist El Greco.
The technical examinations, combined with art-historical research, revealed two earlier compositions underneath the image of The Old Guitarist. This information gives us a better understanding of Picasso's artistic process.