Celebrated for his caricatures and cartoons, Marius de Zayas is best remembered today for his prescient introduction of modern art to America. Born in Mexico to a prosperous and politically progressive family, de Zayas began his career as an illustrator before political pressures forced his family to emigrate to the US. Working for several newspapers and magazines in New York, de Zayas caricatured socialites, celebrities, and the stars of theater and vaudeville. After meeting Alfred Stieglitz and showing at Stieglitz's "291" gallery, de Zayas became a scout for new artistic talent. He traveled to Paris in 1910, and although he first considered Cubism to be the "tower of Babel of painting," he grew to understand the movement and became friends with Pablo Picasso.

De Zayas was deeply influenced by Cubism's break with optical reality and expanded his own caricatures to include more abstract ways of representing his subjects. He was also impacted by Cubism's incorporation of non-Western influences, bringing the first artistic exhibition of African sculpture to New York in 1914. His Modern Gallery was an important outlet for European modernists during WWI; after closing the gallery in 1921, he relocated to Europe where he continued to collect and support modern artists.