Cubist art emerged in Paris around 1907. The two main ‘inventors’ of Cubism were the French painter Georges Braque (1882–1963) and the Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). The term ‘Cubism’ originated in a derogatory remark made by an art critic in 1908: he said that Braque reduced everything ‘to geometric outlines, to cubes’. The term ‘Cubism’ soon came into widespread use, although in fact Cubist paintings rarely feature cubes.

Artists including Fernand Léger and Auguste Herbin soon followed their lead, as did foreign artists who visited Paris and became captivated by this new style. Instead of seeking a photographic likeness, or a fixed viewpoint, the Cubists would paint a motif as if seen simultaneously from different angles. This innovation implied that the artist had moved around the subject and that the relationship between an artist and the subject was a dynamic one linked to movement, speed and the modern world.

Russian artists – for example Lyubov Popova and Natalya Goncharova, whose work is shown here – were particularly drawn towards Cubism, seeing it as a new, revolutionary approach, which corresponded to the new, revolutionary ideas which were emerging in Russian society.