František Kupka is often regard as one of the founding fathers of Abstract Art for his introduction of the first series of paintings with non-objective subjects in the late 19th century. He finally sealed abstract art as an art form when he produced Amorpha, Fugue en deux couleurs in 1912 as a major abstract composition of that time. From then on, he concentrated on abstract painting and led the foundation of different groups for artists who shared the same style and vision as him such as the Abstraction-Creation in 1931.
But before he committed himself to abstract painting completely, he used to explore the styles of Realism, Fauvism, and Symbolism first. It is said that František Kupka wanted an innovative approach that would allow him to represent the connection of music and visual meanings, and conveniently abstraction solved this problem. The works he produced during the advent of 20th century are notable for their lyricism, shapes with seemingly alive motion powered by its soft edges and curves, and beautiful elements of color contrasts such as reds, blues, blacks and whites.
František Kupka was trained by different fine arts schools in Prague and Vienna. Like many of his contemporaries, he also tried to make a name in Paris from the late 19th century to pre-WWI. During this period, he painted portraits and still-life objects in a manner similar to the Impressionists and Symbolists, the pre-dominant art movements at the time. He had also worked as book illustrator for L’Homme et la terre by Elisee Reclus, Prometheus by Aeschylus, and Les Brinnyes by Leconte de Lisle’s. Becoming an architect was part of his plan, too, because he grew up in a region where Baroque art and architecture had been ubiquitous. His earliest source of artistic influence was Mathias Braun that he later enrolled at the Jaromer Technical College. However, as it turned out, František Kupka became a painter instead of an architect.
Some examples of his notable paintings are as follows:
František Kupka was born in 23rd September 1871 in the quaint Opocno located near Eastern Bohemia. He was the eldest child in a large family, in which his father worked as a clerk in the municipal office. The father was known for his sensitivity when it comes to spiritualism, which convinced him to appoint his eldest child as a saddler to a master in Dobruska. However, the young František had no passion to become such and left the apprenticeship in no time.
František Kupka then traveled across the now Czech republic where he saw several Baroque-inspired edifices and art works. There he had a close encounter of the works by Mathias Braun, who become his major source of artistic influence. Arriving back home, he entered the Jaromer Technical College but little did he know he would become too invested in painting rather than architecture. One of his art teachers, the painter Studnicka, exposed him to the paintings of Josef Manes. Since the encounter, he desired to receive his formal art training from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, to which he traveled to.
From 1887 to 1891, František Kupka studied in the Prague’s School of Fine Arts and fell in love with modern European art immediately. One of his earliest subjects and themes was spiritualism and eastern philosophy and used academic art as an approach. He then moved on to Vienna to further his art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts there. It was during this period when he began painting Symbolist-inspired art works such as The Last Dream of the Dying Heine, which is now at the Prague Museum.
In 1894, Kupka stayed briefly in London and then journeyed across the Scandinavian region. By 1885 he came down in Paris where he would establish a lifetime career. His ventures in Paris had been a combination of work and studies; he studied at the Academie Julian for a few months and then entered the workshop of Jean-Pierre Laurens who was teaching at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts around 1894. On the side, Kupka worked as an illustrator of posters and books of famous authors.
Around early 1900, he had been creating caricatures and posters for advertisement agencies and newspapers. He became interested in Odilon Redon who was known for his Symbolist art works and got him inspired to execute The Black Idol and Defiance in 1903. In 1906 he found home in Puteaux, Paris where he produced some paintings that would be a part of the Salon d’Automne of the same year. It was also through this exhibition when he became interested in Futurist Manifesto which came into circulation in 1909 in Le Figaro. In that same year he painted the Piano Keyboard – The Lake, a breakthrough work that laid the foundations of his own abstract art.
Around 1910 František Kupka’s paintings became abstract which reflected his philosophy on colors, motion, and the undeniable connection between painting and music. This kind of style would be later termed as Orphism, a word derived from two words; Orphic and Cubism. It’s a technique developed out of abstracting Cubism; the bright colors, shapes, and motions, in order to achieve lyrical effects off of the painting. In 1911 Kupka had been part of several meetings of the Puteaux Group. His participation in this group may have been a contributing factor to the full development of his theories of color and motion, which resulted to the birth of abstraction.
In 1912, Amorpha, Fugue a deaux couleurs was one of the main highlights of the Salon des Independants exhibition. It was placed at the Cubist room, and because the painting was rare it caused a lot of sensation. Amorpha became synonymous with abstract art at the time, which features warm colors, circular shapes, and intersecting elliptical forms. The motif is generally geometrical and composed without any apparent human or animal forms. Although a few years later, Kupka would become focused on depicting natural phenomena in his works such as the Cosmic Spring I of 1913.
One of Kupka’s signature approach to art is consistent touch ups on his paintings until he is satisfied enough to label them with the final date of completion. As a matter of fact, he only started putting dates on most of his paintings during the last few months of his life.
František Kupka was one of the founding members of the Abstraction-Creation Group in 1931. His association with the group introduced him to various painters specializing in abstract painting. He also came into contact with the founders of other abstract expressionist art movements such as Neo-Plasticism, the Bauhaus Design School, and De Stijl.
In the 1930’s, his composition style was rigorous, almost academic. He painted several paintings based on the relationship of music and painting such as Jazz-Hot No. 1 in 1935 and Music in 1936. He wanted to point that painting music can produce syncopated rhythms, giving a new perspective on how people may view these two distinct art forms.
During the World War II outbreak, František Kupka was forced to go on an evacuation at Beaugency. Shortly after the war ended he returned to his Puteaux home and resumed with retouching his art works such as Three Blues, Three Reds which he began painting in 1913 and only finished in by 1957. He had also experimented with his composition style which is reflected in his Autonomous White painting, 1951. This work is known to have perpendicular planes arranged in a non-illusionist spatial setting yet with regular canvas surfaces.
František Kupka’s career gained some more momentum in the mid-1930. In 1936 his art works were represented in a Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. This was followed by another joint exhibition with Alphonse Mucha at the Jeu de Paume Gallery in France, which went successful. He secured yet another art show in 1946, a retrospective, at the Galerie Manes in Prague. As if Kupka has not been busy enough to accept exhibitions here and there, the Salon des Realities Nouvelles had also expressed interest in hosting his abstract works.
The Salon des Realities Nouvelles would become his go-to art show host until his death. This collaboration proved to be beneficial to his career as the international art scene began investing in his paintings. The early 1950’s had been spent on traveling around the US, particularly New York, to attend his one-man shows. All of these achievements would not have been possible without the unfailing sponsorship of Jindrich Waldes, whom he knew as early as 1919 and supported him until 1938. By this period, František Kupka would be financially independent to move along without the support of Waldes.
During the last few years of František Kupka’s life, his achievements and artistic reputation was comparable to the likes of Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky. Kupka died on June 24, 1957 in his home at Puteaux, Paris at the age of 85. He is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Today, a large of collection of his works are viewable in Museum Kampa in Prague.