Czech Painter, Illustrator, and Writer
Opocno, Eastern Bohemia, Czech Republic
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.
- 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, 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.
Important Art by František Kupka
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.
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.
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).