Explore how Cubist artists shattered conventions of representation and perspective.

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.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

General agreement on or acceptance of certain practices or attitudes; a widely used and accepted device or technique, as in drama, literature, or visual art.

1. The range of colors used by an artist in making a work of art; 2. A thin wooden or plastic board on which an artist holds and mixes paint.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.

A representation of inanimate objects, as a painting of a bowl of fruit.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

Technique used to depict volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface, as in a painted scene that appears to extend into the distance.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.

Representing a form or figure in art that retains clear ties to the real world.

Originally a term of derision used by a critic in 1908, Cubism describes the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and those influenced by them. Working side by side, they developed a visual language whose geometric planes and compressed space challenged what had been the defining conventions of representation in Western painting: the relationship between solid and void, figure and ground. Traditional subjects—nudes, landscapes, and still lifes—were reinvented as increasingly fragmented compositions. Cubism’s influence extended to an international network of artists working in Paris in those years and beyond.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.

Non-representational works of art that do not depict scenes or objects in the world or have discernable subject matter.

Related Artists: Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso

Questions & Activities

  1. Artistic Exchange with a Friend

    Explore the spirit of Picasso and Braque’s collaboration by writing a letter or e-mail to a friend about a new or past artwork. The letter should describe what the work looks like, what message it conveys, and what process you used in creating it. Here are some prompts to get you started:

    Dear _______,
    Let me tell you about my latest artwork, TITLE. I got started first by…
    When I was making this artwork, I was thinking/expressing…
    When I got stuck I…
    I decided it was finished when… or I would still like to do…
    Do you have any suggestions or feedback for me?

    Give your letter to a friend. Your partner should respond in kind with a letter. Talk about what insights you have gained from your friend’s comments and suggestions. Through this exchange, you may decide to collaborate on a joint work or project.

  2. Exploring Perspectives through Photography

    Explore the idea of multiple perspectives by taking pictures of the same subject from different angles. Print out your images. Cut the images up and paste them onto a separate sheet of paper, creating a single two-dimensional collage that depicts the subject from multiple viewpoints at once.

    Once you have a final collage, create a title for your piece. Write a short caption that explains your artistic intention.