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František Kupka Photo

František Kupka

Czech Painter, Illustrator, and Writer

Born: September 23, 1871 - Opocno, Eastern Bohemia, Czech Republic
Died: June 24, 1957 - Puteaux, France
Movements and Styles:
Symbolism
,
Orphism
"Color is, both for the artist who uses it and for the spectator who perceives and assesses it, the vehicle of the impression... [Every color] provokes different sensations. Though with identical functions, each color makes itself known by a specific vibration."
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Frantisek Kupka Signature
"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."
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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."
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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."
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František Kupka
"Man is nature aware of itself"
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František Kupka
"I can find something between sight and hearing and I can produce a fugue in colors as Bach has done in music."
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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."
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František Kupka

Summary of František Kupka

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.

Accomplishments

  • 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 of František Kupka

František Kupka Photo

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 Studnička who started his formal artistic education and instructed him in drawing and the decorative arts.



Progression of Art

c. 1900

The Beginning of Life

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.

1909-10

Planes by Colors, Large Nude

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

1909-10

Woman picking flower

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.

1911-12

Disks of Newton

The title of this painting is a reference to the theory of color developed by Isaac Newton in the mid-17th century. The physicist was the first to discover that light from the sun was composed of the seven colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Here Kupka represents the sun, shown in the top right of the image as an intense red circle, breaking down into its constituent parts of light. Moving away from this focal point, the colors become cooler in tone and eventually disintegrate into black, the absence of color. Kupka was interested in cosmology and astronomy and it is possible that the two spheres in the foreground represent planets, the concentric circles indicating their paths of orbit and their own rotation.

This work is also known by the title Study for Fugue in Two Colors - the reference to a fugue (a musical compositional technique) adds a further element of meaning to the piece. As with many as his fellow artists, Kupka believed that painting and music were closely allied and that sound could be embodied by color and form, stating that "I can find something between sight and hearing and I can produce a fugue in colors as Bach has done in music." This image in one of a number of studies with the same name, but there is no final version known.

Oil on canvas - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris

1920-30

Around a point

Kupka started to produce studies for this work as early as 1911, finally producing this large oil in the years 1925-30, although he may have reworked elements of it as late as 1934. The piece can be seen as a synthesis of Kupka's ideas, interests, and beliefs about creation, cosmic symbolism, the hidden 'inner', and scientific theories of motion, light, and color. The point was an important concept for Kupka and in his book Creation in the Plastic Arts, he wrote, "The suns and the satellites, ovoid spheres, rings, nebulae and comets that populate infinite space, as astronomy describes it, all of this, to our eyes, simply represents a mass of bright points. On the other hand, other small points, observed with a microscope and that science tells us are part of an infinite multitude of molecules and atoms, even smaller points, become, to the naked eye, bodies, articulated organisms". To Kupka, the 'point' represented a double notion of infinitely big and infinitely small and such themes can be seen in this work.

The focus of the piece is a small black dot, highlighted by a beam of white light. This seems to represent the center of creation and the series of disjointed and interweaving rings which spiral out from it, the expanses of the universe, full of stars, planets and mystic forces. The colors used are subtler than many of his previous works and are dominated by blues and oranges, opposites on a color wheel, and this creates a sense of harmony within the composition. The white background gives it a light and airy appearance and this is furthered by the use of dots to fill planes instead of bands of pure color. This gives a sense of the dematerialization of solid forms, the hidden being revealed beneath the purely visual. It has been suggested that Kupka originally based the shapes of the piece around the image of a lotus flower, simplifying it into curves and spheres and this make sense within the context of the wider symbolism.

Oil on canvas - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris

1928-32

Abstractions

This is one of a series of 16 Abstractions painted by Kupka in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first 12 were initially published in 1933 on a single page in the second issue of the Abstraction-Creation Review and all 16 were later published in 1948 in a dedicated volume. The Abstractions consist of minimalistic compositions of lines, circles, spirals and rectangles drawn in black on a pure white background. The shapes are thoughtfully arranged within the space on the canvas and each image differs significantly from the others. They are reflective of a wider move from sinuous shapes to streamlined and geometric forms as embodied by the increasing popularity of Art Deco.

In creating these, the artist aimed to purify his forms, producing radically simplified, austere images that focused on the importance of shape and line above everything else. The geometric forms in this example are all arranged vertically and of this Kupka noted in Creation in the Plastic Arts that "In the vertical there is all the majesty of the static. It contains at once the top and the bottom, combining them ... In its solemnity, the vertical is the backbone of life in space, the axis of all construction; it monumentalizes the most trivial sketch that has been squared"

Through the canvases of Abstractions Kupka sought a truth outside of pictorial representation. By breaking painting down into its constituent parts the artist does not allow the viewer to relate the shapes to their visual understanding of the world, instead they must interpret the inner meaning of them, revealing a hidden reality which will differ for each viewer as they bring their own experiences to bear on the painting. As early as 1912, Kupka wrote "The straight line represents the abstract world. It is absolute", these images represent a culmination of this belief.

Gouache - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris


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Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson

"František Kupka Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 13 Apr 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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