Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, on the southern Spanish coast. He was christened Ruiz after his father, and Picasso after his mother, in the traditional Spanish way. His background was modest; his father, José Ruiz Blasco, supported his family by teaching drawing at the local art school. Picasso was introduced to art by his father, who loved to paint the pigeons that flocked in the plaza outside the family home. Sometimes Picasso's father asked his young son to finish his paintings for him; the precocious boy was more than able to do so. By the time he was 13, his budding talent already overshadowed his father's. He very quickly grasped naturalistic conventions in his drawing; he said later, "I never drew like a child. When I was 12, I drew like Raphael." The imagery of his earliest work was derived from both conventional academic studies–the usual subjects that artists trained themselves on at the time, such as figure studies based on plaster casts–and his fascination with the bullfight, which he shared with his father.

In 1891, the family, now including Picasso's two younger sisters, Concepción and Lola, moved to La Coruña, on the Atlantic coast. Picasso's father got another job as a drawing teacher, at the college in town. Picasso enrolled in his father's class on ornamental drawing and took other courses on figure-drawing and landscape-painting. When he was 14, he painted oil portraits of family friends, but also of assorted misfits. These early efforts were both technically accomplished and warmly sympathetic; his "Girl with Bare Feet" looks nothing like a child's work.

In 1895, Picasso's father switched jobs again, taking a position at La Lonja, the art school in Barcelona. This was very fortunate; Barcelona was a big city and not a bit provincial. There, the thriving artistic community kept up-to-date with everything that was going on in Paris. The organic, sensuous, lines of Art Nouveau–which seem soft as a petal now, but carried at the time a certain charge of dangerous decadence–marked the style and architecture of Barcelona more deeply than any other city. At age 14, Picasso took and passed the exam to get into the senior course on classical art and still-life at La Lonja. His astonished examiners saw him as a prodigy.

Picasso shared a studio with a friend, Manuel Pallarés and began painting ambitious canvases. His "First Communion" and "Science and Charity" were distinguished by sharp lines and tonal modeling and the latter won a gold medal at the Exposición de Bellas Artes in Málaga.

In the autumn of 1897, Picasso went to study at the Academia Real de San Fernando in Madrid. He found the school stodgy and thus rarely showed up for class. Instead, he learned from the old master paintings at the Prado art collection; here he first admired the work of the Baroque Spanish painters Velázquez and El Greco, which deeply impressed him. Otherwise, however, Picasso was miserable. Once his father found out about his dismal attendance record, Picasso's allowance was cut off and he found himself penniless.

Picasso wanted badly to get out of Madrid, and so he accompanied his friend Pallarés back to Pallarés's home village, Horta de Ebro, where he stayed for eight months. Afterwards, he would often say that "Everything I know, I learned in Pallarés's village." During his stay he found new material to paint in the picturesque details of this hamlet among the mountains. This was not the last time that Horta would serve as a place of refuge and rethinking.

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