Popova was born near Moscow, where she studied painting from 1907 to 1908. She was based in Paris from 1912 to 1913, studying under the cubist painters Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier. She began painting in a cubist style around this date and on her return to Russia in 1914 exhibited and associated with Russian avant-garde groups. As one of the most innovative of early twentieth-century Russian abstract artists, Popova saw abstract, 'constructivist' art as a metaphor for construction in the modern industrial city and referred to herself as an 'artist-engineer'. In the early 1920s Popova was also involved in textile and theatrical design.