czech, active in france
Opočno, Czech Republic
Pioneering abstract painter, printmaker and illustrator František Kupka is known for his compositions experimenting with color, light and optics in images re-interpreting nature. He was born in 1871 in Opočno, a small town in eastern Bohemia (then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in the northern Czech Republic.), where his father was a clerk for a notary. The following year his father was transferred to nearby Dobruška, where Kukpka grew up. He was apprenticed to a saddle-maker in 1884. Later his master encouraged him to enter an art school; Kupka entered the School of Applied Arts in the Moravian town of Jarměřice nad Rokytnou in 1888, where he studied under Alois Studnička (1842-1927). Later that year he entered at Prague’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), where he trained in the religious and historical painting studio of František Sequens (1836-1896) until 1892. After graduation Kupka moved to Vienna’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste under with August Eisenmenger (1830-1907) until 1893. By the following year Kupka met German Symbolist painter Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851-1913), whose radical politics and interest in nature had a strong influence on Kupka. Kupka had moved to Paris by 1896, where he worked as an illustrator for magazines and became friends with Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). His painting “Bibliomaniac” (“Book Collector,” 1896-98, Prague National Gallery) drew scant attention when exhibited at the 1899 salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, but the following year Kupka’s painting “Madmen” (1899) received a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle. His “Ballad, Joys of Life” (1901-02, Prague, National Gallery) was shown at the 1901 salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and won a gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Kupka illustrated several luxury books, created a series of satirical lithographs in the magazine L’Assiette au burre, moved to the Parisian suburb of Puteaux west of Paris, met Eugéne Straub whom he would later marry and became a Knight of the Legion of Honor during the new century’s first decade. In 1904 he accepted a commission to illustrate “L’Homme et la terre” (“Mankind and the Earth”), a six-volume history of humanity in the context of its physical environment and the natural sciences written by Jacques Elsée Reclus (1830-1905); it took him until 1908 to complete the illustratoins. Kupka’s first solo exhibition in Bohemia was mounted in 1905. He exhibited one of the first examples of abstract art, the painting “Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors” (1912, Prague, National Gallery) at the 1912 Salon d’Automne. Kupka’s “Vertical Planes I” (1912, Paris, Pompidou) was exhibited at the 1913 Salon des Indépendants. It was later described by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), as the earliest pure geometrical abstraction in modern painting. Kupka followed it with a series of vertical abstractions. After serving as an officer in the Czech Legion during World War I, Kupka was appointed a professor in Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1919, although he did most of his teaching in Paris over the next twenty years. During that time he was also supported by Prague industrialist Jindřich Waldes (1876-1941), an avid collector of Kupka’s works. His first solo exhibition in Paris was at the Povolozka Gallery in 1921, followed by a second at Galerie La Boëtie in 1924. He founded the Abstraction-Création group of artist with Jean Arp (1886-1966), Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) and others in 1931. Kupka exhibited in many group and solo exhibitions over the next decades, notably a joint show with Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) at Musée du Jeu de Paume (1936), the group exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art” at MOMA (1936), and the retrospective exhibition mounted by the Galerie S.V.U in Prague (1946). Kupka died in Puteaux in 1957. His work was recognized in retrospective exhibitions at the Paris Musée National d’Art Moderne in 1958 and New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1975. (TNB 1/2018) Selected bibliography: Fauchereau, Serge. Frantisek Kkupka. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1989. Vachtová, Ludmilla. Frantisek Kupka—Pioneer of Abstract Art. With an introduction by J. P. Hodin; translated by Zdeněk Lederer. New York and Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1968.