Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957)

Czech painter and graphic artist, active mainly in France, a pioneer of abstract art. He was born in Opocno in eastern bohemia and studied at the Academies of Prague (1889-92) and Vienna (1892-93). At this time he was painting historical scenes in a traditional style. In 1895 or 1896 he moved to Paris, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. …In his early days in Paris he worked mainly as a book illustrator and satirical draughtsman; his paintings were influenced by Symbolism and the Fauvism. From an early age he had been interested in the supernatural (later in Theosophy), and from this grew a concern with the spiritual symbolism of colour. It became his ambition to create paintings whose colours and rhythms would produce effects similar to those of music, and in his letters he sometimes signed himself ‘colour symphonist’. (1)

Piano Keyboard/Lake, 1909
Oil on canvas
31 x 28.34 inches
Národni Galerie, Prague

Mme Kupka among Verticals, 1910-11
Oil on canvas
53.375 x 33.625
Museum of Modern Art, New York

From 1909 (inspired by high speed photography) he experimented—in a manner similar to that of the Futurists—with ways of showing motion, and by 1912 this led him to complete abstraction in Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colours (National Gallery, Prague). This created something of a sensation when it was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne that year. As with Delaunay and the Orphists, to whom his work was closely related, Kupka excelled at this stage in his career in the creation of lyrical colour effects. (2)

In the summer of 1908 Kupka painted his stepdaughter Andrée playing with a red and blue ball on the lawn of his garden in Puteaux. (3)

Girl with a Ball, 1908
Pastel on paper
24.5 x 18.75 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Study After Girl with a Ball, 1908-10
Pencil on paper
10.43 x 6.88 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Disk of Newton, 1911-12
Oil on Canvas
19.5 x 25.625 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Red & Blue Disks, 1911
Oil on canvas
39.375 x 28.75 inches
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris

Amorpha: Fugue for Two Colors, 1912
Oil on canvas
83 x 86.61 inches
Národni Galerie, Prague

Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, 1912
Gouache and ink on paper
8.25 x 8.875 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, 1912
Gouache and ink on paper
8.50 x 9.00 inches
Museum of Modern Art, New York

At the outbreak of the First World War Kupka volunteered for military service and fought on the Somme; he also did a good deal of work such as designing posters and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1919. In 1922 he lectured at the Prague academy, which appointed him a professor in Paris with the brief of introducing Czech students there to French culture. Before the war Kupka had written a theoretical text in French, La Création dans les arts plastiques, and in 1923 this was published in Prague. The English translation: Creativity in the Visual Arts. In 1931 he was one of the founder members of the Abstraction- Création group, but he resigned in 1934. His later work was in a more geometrical abstract style. Although Kupka gradually established a considerable reputation, his pioneering role in abstract art was not generally realized in his lifetime. The re-evaluation of his career began with an exhibition of his work at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1958, a year after his death. (4)

Vertical Planes III, 1912-13, 1924, 1931
Oil on canvas
78.75 x 46.50 inches
Národni Galerie, Prague

Abstract Painting, 1930
Oil on canvas
49.21 x 33.46 inches
Národni Galerie, Prague

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1. Ian Chilvers Oxford Dictionary of 20th-Century Art (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 1999, 331.
2. Ibid.
3. Ludmila Vachtová Frank Kupka: Pioneer of Abstract Art. New York & Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968, 75.
4. Ian Chilvers Oxford Dictionary of 20th-Century Art (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 1999, 331.