The life drawings Picasso produced in the course of his training amply confirm that his studies of classical works failed to give him that grasp of anatomical structure which is central to the classical tradition. A full-length life drawing of a nude black man, shown in three-quarter view with arms crossed, is symptomatic. Among other faults, anatomical features lack structural definition; geometric relationships, as between the figure's rather too diminutive buttock and the head, are not clarified as they should be. Like the Ilissus drawing, with which it was loaned by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona for the Reinventing Tradition exhibition, this life study is most impressive as an exercise in graphic rather than sculptural technique.
There was thus a much stronger naturalistic strain in Picasso's formal training than is commonly realised. That training, in contrast to the old academic system, was pictorially rather than sculpturally oriented. It was more preoccupied with light and the surface effects it produces than with the underlying structure of the figure. Had that not been the case, Picasso would not have failed to communicate the structure of Vollard's face and hands in his laboriously detailed portrait. So the contrast between the "classical" studies Picasso produced as a student and the remarkable portraits he produced on his own in a naturalistic, verista manner is a genre issue, nothing more.
Simplistic shapes (think of the dumbed-down shoulder in the Ilissus study), generic or schematic outlines and tonal gradation remained central to Picasso's draughtsmanship after he forsook the academy. These core components of Bargue's E-Z Method he routinely combined with graphic pyrotechnics of one kind or another. It is not an exaggeration to say that Picasso made a Modernist virtue of the defects in his academic training.
A Picasso self-portrait in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, expressionistically rendered in black chalk and watercolour when he was 20, again calls the Cours to mind. The face, bordered by a thick mane of hair above and a striped cravat below, is blocked out in rigid lines, like a preliminary schematic outline in one of Bargue's how-to plates. The simple design consigned much of one side of his face to shadow — Step 2 in the Bargue method — though here the shadow is very crudely indicated. The facial features were rather hazily sketched in, their tonal qualities clearly indicating photography's influence. And that's Step 3. He had recently taken a similar approach in a number of the portraits he had produced for his first exhibition at the Els Quatre Gats café in Barcelona.