Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in the Andalusian port city of Málaga in Spain. Encouraged by his father, who moved the family in 1895 to Barcelona to accept an academic position as a professor of painting, Picasso began drawing and painting at a very early age. His early training followed a conservative academic tradition, and his work consisted of realistic representations from life and frequently included religious themes. From 1900 to 1904, Picasso lived primarily in Barcelona but traveled and worked frequently in Paris, where he would permanently settle in 1904.
The Old Guitarist was completed toward the end of 1903 during Picasso's final months in Spain. It is representative of his Blue Period, which was triggered in part by the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casagemas in 1901. The works of this period are characterized by their blue palette, somber subject matter, and destitute characters. His paintings feature begging mothers and fathers with small children and haggard old men and women with arms outstretched or huddled in despair. Picasso was heavily influenced by the Symbolist movement and a revival in interest in the art of 16th-century Spanish artist El Greco. In The Old Guitarist, the blind musician bends over his guitar in an attitude of exhaustion and hopelessness. Like the figures of El Greco's paintings, the guitarist's features are attenuated and angular.