Picasso painted this when he was 15 years old during a cholera outbreak in his hometown of Málaga, Spain. Here we see the patient flanked on both sides by a physician (representing scientific advances) and a nun serving tea (representing compassion for the suffering). Although there was much faith in medical advances at the time, the patient appears to be at Death’s door. The doctor is unable to do much more.
This painting is one of three Picasso painted about disease around this time. In 1895, his beloved sister Conchita died of diphtheria. A cure was available at the time, but only to the very rich who could afford its high price; Picasso was devastated.