These works of art depict real people and range in style from lifelike realism to total abstraction. Although the artists and their subjects lived in different cultures, continents, and eras, there are interesting parallels. Three men are honored for their strong characters and accomplishments, and a group of friends is celebrated for their mutual joy in being together and making music.
For centuries, Western artists have strived to create portraits of real people, images so lifelike that they almost seem to breathe. Carved from white marble, Bust of Benjamin Franklin is the epitome of this tradition. The Chinese artist who painted Mandarin in His Study worked in a different visual tradition. The mandarin is recognizable but not lifelike. The artist communicates his modest personality by rendering his face and clothing, study, and favorite things with simplified forms and carefully chosen details. In Three Musicians, Pablo Picasso portrays himself with two friends in the Cubist style—figures and furniture are reduced to interlocking, angular shapes. Barbara Chase-Riboud expresses the essence of slain civil rights activist and Muslim minister Malcolm X with abstract bronze shapes and strands of knotted and braided silk.
These "portraits" were made to honor and celebrate certain people with depictions that would exist long after their lives were over. They allow us to know and be inspired by people whom we admire, and whose presence we want to preserve.