Following their 1907 meeting in Paris, artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered the Cubist style, a new vision for a new century that inspired paintings that were initially ridiculed by critics for consisting of “little cubes.” Often painting side-by-side in their Montmartre, Paris, studios, the artists developed a visual language of geometric planes and compressed space that rejected the conventions of perspective and representation. Cubist works challenged viewers to understand a subject broken down into its geometrical components and often represented from several angles at once. Traditional subjects like nude figures, landscapes, and still lifes were reinvented as increasingly fragmented compositions by Picasso, Braque, and other artists working in and around the French capital.

Cubists abstracted from real life to make their work, but most often maintained small identifiable clues to a realistic figure, whether a woman or a violin. The artists adopted a neutral palette of browns and blacks, intending the viewer to focus on the geometric composition rather than the color. Cubism marks a pioneering moment in the history of art—one that ended when many of its leading practitioners, Braque among them, enlisted to fight in World War I.

Get art and ideas in your inbox