Pablo Picasso, "Academic Study from Life: Male Nude, from the Side, with a Pole; Sketch of Head and Bust of Male Figures," 1895–97. Pencil, Conté crayon, and ink on paper. Museu Picasso, Barcelona (MPB 110.849). © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso/ARS, New York

Throughout their careers, both Degas and Picasso focused primarily on the human figure, an obsession that had its roots in the artists' early education. Separated by almost half a century, they began their training by drawing from posed models and copying great figurative art from the past. Degas quickly rebelled against this system and embarked on a long study tour of Italy. Picasso, who revealed outstanding talent as a child and was directed by his art-teacher father, also turned away from academic practices. In their different circumstances, portraiture allowed both artists to progress from traditional approaches to more modern imagery taken from their own surroundings. In Barcelona, the teenage Picasso also mixed with radical Catalan artists who had visited Paris and seen the work of the Impressionists, including Degas. By 1900, Picasso's own pictures showed these contemporary influences, along with traces of Art Nouveau and other styles.

Edgar Degas, "Study for "Dante and Virgil," c. 1856–57. Pencil and chalk on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1955.1403).
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