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Artists František Kupka
František Kupka Photo

František Kupka

Czech Painter, Illustrator, and Writer

Movements and Styles: Symbolism, Orphism

Born: September 23, 1871 - Opocno, Eastern Boehmia, Czech Republic

Died: June 24, 1957 - Puteaux, France

František Kupka Timeline

Quotes

"The moment has come for me to write, draw, and paint my credo. In the last month I have destroyed much of my work... Looked at carefully, they were mostly tumors remaining from my bad times."
František Kupka
"Once you realize that it is impossible to capture the character of the various manifestations of nature by pictorial means, and that an interpretation based on imagination is equally erroneous, you will not find yourself facing a gaping void as you might have feared."
František Kupka
"Yesterday I experienced a split consciousness where it seemed I was observing the earth from outside. I was in great empty space and saw the planets rolling quietly. After that it was difficult to come back to the trivia of everyday life."
František Kupka
"Man is nature aware of itself"
František Kupka
"I can find something between sight and hearing and I can produce a fugue in colors as Bach has done in music."
František Kupka
"Winter and summer, I follow my morning shower with gymnastics, which I practice nude in my garden.... It is ... a ritual that I perform as a prayer to the great fireworks of the rising sun."
František Kupka

"Colour is, both for the artist who uses it and for the spectator who perceives and assesses it, the vehicle of the impression... [Every colour] provokes different sensations. Though with identical functions, each colour makes itself known by a specific vibration."

František Kupka Signature

Synopsis

Kupka was a pioneer of abstract art and one of the first completely non-representational artists. Along with artists such as Mondrian and Kandinsky, his mature work formed the foundations for the development of modern art in the 20th century. Although many of his early pieces were figurative or contained realistic elements, he gradually evolved a purely abstract style, seeking to communicate ideas and beliefs without using recognizable imagery but instead conveying them through the use of line, form, and color alone. Whilst he was reluctant to be associated with any particular movement, Kupka worked closely with the Cubists and was instrumental in the development of Orphism, he also drew inspiration from the work of a wide range of other artists including those associated with Futurism and Fauvism.

Key Ideas

Self-educated, Kupka read extensively and was notably influenced by ideas relating to spiritualism, Buddhism and Theosophy. He incorporated religious symbolism into some of his early work and, later, used the philosophies associated with these religions to create his own belief system focused on revealing the unseen meaning hidden beneath the purely visual, a tenet that informed his move towards abstraction. He also investigated concepts relating to creation and the wider universe in his art.
In many pieces of his work, Kupka considered the essential nature of color and he was interested in how colors interacted with each other. He drew on both scientific research and spiritual beliefs to study the emotional and psychological effects they could have on the viewer, believing that properly composed color had the ability to allow people to enter a transcendental state.
The relationship between music and painting became increasingly important to Kupka throughout his career. He drew parallels between the processes of creating music and art, naming a number of his paintings after compositional techniques, particularly 'fugue'. He also utilized music to directly inspire his work, visualizing the rhythms and tones that he heard.

Biography

František Kupka Photo

Childhood

František Kupka, also known as Frank Kupka or François Kupka, was born in Eastern Bohemia in 1871, the oldest of five children of the notary Vaclav Kupka and his wife Josefa. For financial reasons, he left school and started work at the age of 13 for a saddle maker. This lack of formal schooling remained a source of humiliation for Kupka throughout his life and inspired him to engage in extensive self-education. Although he disliked his job, his first employer introduced him to spiritualism and he incorporated ideas relating to this into his early work. After a couple of years Kupka left this role and travelled around Bohemia earning money through sign painting. During this time he cemented his interests in philosophy, history and painting. Upon his return he enrolled in Jaromer Technical College where his work came to the attention of the Swedish artist Alois Strudnicka who started his formal artistic education and instructed him in drawing and the decorative arts.

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František Kupka Biography Continues

Important Art by František Kupka

The below artworks are the most important by František Kupka - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Beginning of Life (c. 1900)

The Beginning of Life (c. 1900)

Artwork description & Analysis: This etching, executed a few years after his arrival in Paris, shows the influence of Symbolism on Kupka. Dominating the scene is a floating fetus enclosed in a circle. It is attached through an umbilical cord to a radiating womb which blooms from a lotus flower. In the picture Kupka draws heavily on religious imagery, especially that of Buddhism and Theosophy (a belief system which combined religion, science and philosophy) to represent overarching ideas of birth, life, and renewal. Kupka utilized ideas from numerous sources in his art and had a long-standing interest in mystical and spiritual concepts.

The lotus flower is an important symbol of creation, femininity, and sexual union and is depicted here as the origin of life itself. This was not the first time that Kupka had imbued the Lotus with these qualities and similar imagery can be seen in his earlier painting The Soul of the Lotus (1898). The circles reference the widespread and historical practice of utilizing halos to denote religious figures. Here, they are employed to delineate sacred space, highlighting both the womb and the fetus as holy. In both Buddhism and Theosophy the circle also represents the eternal, symbolizing the infinite universe and the life within it. The interconnected elements in the process of creation stand out against the more muted tones and repetitive shapes of the background and there is a sense of movement and light upwards from the lotus flower to the fetus via the sun-like womb. This emphasizes the importance of birth and growth and the role played by women within this.

Colored etching on paper - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Planes by Colors, Large Nude (1909-1910)

Planes by Colors, Large Nude (1909-1910)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is a nude of Kupka's wife and muse, Eugenie, reclining on a sofa. Although the subject matter is quite academic, the artist uses unrealistic colors to model the flesh and face, dividing the figure into several tonal planes. Kupka believed in the existence of an unseen dimension of meaning hidden beneath the purely visual and he attempted to capture this in his art, revealing the model's 'inner form' through his use of color. This aim was supported by the invention of radiography around 1895 which confirmed Kupka's ideas relating to the existence of an invisible reality and encouraged him to view subjects with a painterly X-Ray vision.

The background and sofa are made of horizontal and vertical stripes of colors denying any sense of depth to the picture and this indicates the influence of Cubism on the artist. The painting also demonstrates a debt to the vibrant colors and techniques of Fauvism, particularly the work of Henri Matisse. The painting is more than an imitation of other styles, however, it is a work of experimentation and shows Kupka refining his own language of color and representation. A series of studies for the final painting display a decreasingly figurative approach to the subject and an investigation into different color palettes and arrangements.

The final piece presents a dichotomy between naturalistic detail such as the carefully proportioned figure and the shaft of sunlight highlighting the model's left leg and the less realistic elements including the color and background perspective. This lingering duality in the work is demonstrated by its title which combines the vocabulary of modernism with that of more traditional art.

Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Woman picking flower (1909-1910)

Woman picking flower (1909-1910)

Artwork description & Analysis: During the same years Kupka was working on Planes by Colors, Large Nude he also completed a number of pastel studies experimenting with the representation of movement. Here he shows the consecutive phases of motion of a women rising from a chair and leaning forward to pick a flower as a series of silhouettes. Discussing this work a few years after its completion, Kupka wrote, "In order to give the impression of movement through the use of static agents . . . one must evoke a sequence of presences; to do so in the visual arts, one must indicate different intensities of impressions, from the least to the most easily perceptible." Kupka indicates these 'different intensities' through the use of color and thickness of application of the medium. The colors follow a chromatic progression from cool to warm as the sequence evolves and the blurring between the individual outlines suggests the path from one to the next. The blue silhouette contains the most concentrated depth of color, this acts as a central pivot around which the composition rotates designating the mid-point of the sequence of movement.

In creating this painting it is probable that Kupka was inspired by both the invention of chronophotography and the aims of the Futurists. Chronophotography was developed by Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and allowed successive phases of motion to be captured in multiple photographs which were often layered into a single image. The Futurists were also interested in the representation of movement particularly from a point of view of speed and machinery and this was highlighted in their 1909 Manifesto. Later, members of the Futurist Movement produced similarly experimental images that attempted to capture the essence of movement including Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912).

Pastel, watercolor and graphite on paper - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

More František Kupka Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
František Kupka
Interactive chart with František Kupka's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Frantisek Sequens
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Jacques VillonJacques Villon
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay

Personal Contacts

Jacques VillonJacques Villon
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Jindrich Waldes

Movements

Art NouveauArt Nouveau
SymbolismSymbolism
CubismCubism
OrphismOrphism
FuturismFuturism

Influences on Artist
František Kupka
František Kupka
Years Worked: 1896 - 1957
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Max BillMax Bill

Personal Contacts

Blaise CendrarsBlaise Cendrars
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
Sonia DelaunaySonia Delaunay

Movements

OrphismOrphism
Abstraction
Concrete Art

Useful Resources on František Kupka

Books

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
František Kupka: Catalogue Raisonné Recomended resource

By Agnes Husslein-Arco, Vladimir Lekes, Ludmila Lekes, Eliska Zlatohlavkova

Kukpa

By Serge Fauchereau

František Kupka, 1871-1957: A Retrospective, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

By František Kupka,‎ Meda Mladek,‎ Margit Rowell

More Interesting Books about František Kupka
Kupka

By Karen Archey
Frieze.com
31 May 2016

Art: A Survey Of Kupka Work At Guggenheim Recomended resource

By John Russell
The New York Times
13 October, 1975

Kupka. Pioneer of abstraction: the exhibition

Video for the exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris (2018)

Kupka, en avant-première au Grand Palais

In French

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson
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