Pablo Picasso, "Self-Portrait," 1896. Oil on canvas. Museu Picasso, Barcelona (MPB 110.076). © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso/ARS, New York

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

As a child in Spain, Picasso showed exceptional artistic gifts that were recognized by his father, a professor of drawing. After encountering contemporary art in Barcelona, Picasso moved to Paris and soon made his mark as a daring innovator. Compulsively creative, he developed the concept of Cubism, which challenged not only current styles but also notions of realism. Picasso surrounded himself with writers, admirers, lovers, and dealers, and by the 1920s had emerged as one of the most famous artists in the western world. His later work ranged from near-abstraction to returns to figuration and often involved pictorial “dialogues” with his great forebears.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917)

Born in Paris, Degas had a conventional art education based on traditional techniques and subject matter. In his late twenties he began painting city life, and he soon become a leading figure in the Impressionist group. His work was innovative and experimental, and he was criticized at the time for his candid scenes of popular entertainment, such as ballets and nightclubs. Though Degas could be severe in his judgments, he was loyal to close friends and generous to younger artists. In his later years, when Picasso first visited Paris, Degas was becoming more reclusive while his drawing, painting, and sculpture achieved an expressive breadth that was dramatically revealed after his death.

Edgar Degas, "Self-Portrait," c. 1857–58. Oil on paper, mounted on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1955.544).
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