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Three Musicians, 1921, by Pablo Ruiz y Picasso

In 1908, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began to break up their subjects—human figures, landscapes, and still lifes—into independent lines and overlapping planes. The images became deliberately ambiguous arrangements of forms in need of decoding.

The term “Cubist” was first applied to this new style by an art critic in reaction to the strongly geometrical appearance of works that Braque exhibited in Paris in November 1908. Within a few years, the Cubist ranks in Paris had swelled with the addition of other artists.

The Cubists’ refusal to produce art that imitated nature led to subsequent breakthroughs. A principal one was the expressive use of unconventional materials. To generate effects of reality and illusion, artists mixed rough substances such as sand into the surfaces of paintings and incorporated newspaper clippings and scraps of wallpaper into collages.