Frantisek Kupka: Stylistic Gadfly

Just about any artist aspiring to become a professional faces the task of deciding what style or school to follow. This was particularly difficult for painters of the early 1900s who decided to commit to modernism in general, but faced a bewildering flurry of new schools and movements to choose from. So it was for Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957, Wikipedia entry here).

Kupka was born in Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and trained in art in Prague and Vienna before moving to Paris 1894 where his training concluded. He spent the rest of his long life in France. As it happened, his career-defining thirties decade largely coincided with the rise and, in many cases, decline of movements such as Fauvism, Blaue Reiter and Cubism. And in his early forties there was Futurism and the first abstract movements.

What to do?, he might well have asked himself. And his answer was to try as many movements as he could. Below are some examples of his work.


Admiration - c.1899
This might have been an illustration because Kupka worked as an illustrator while establishing himself as a painter.

Self-Portrait - 1905
Not a traditional portrait, yet not modernist either. More of an advanced sketch or study. His left arm seems oddly positioned.

Portrait of the Artist with His Wife - completed 1908
A better version can be found on the Internet, but its size in kilobytes is too great to justify. I tried to adjust the colors from a smaller version, but they aren't right. In any case, this paintings seems stylistically a little older than 1908. Compare to the other 1908 painting below.

Lipstick - 1908
Now Kupka is into a mild form of expressionism. A watercolor from the same year, Profil de gigolette, looks even more like something Kees van Dongen might have painted.

Ruban Bleu - 1910
The colors are Fauvist, but the underlying drawing is still representational.

Mme. Kupka Among Verticals - 1911
Pure abstraction began appearing at this time. So Kupka has now almost caught up with the leaders of the avant-garde pack. Except he puts a representation of his wife in the upper-center.

Disks of Newton - 1912
This is in the Orphist/Synchromist mode of abstraction that burst forth around 1912.

Vertical and Diagonal Panes - c.1913
Another early abstraction, but using a different geometrical basis.

The Machine Drill - 1929
Charles Sheeler was starting to create industry-inspired images at about the same time. This Kupka painting indicates movement, so it also can be interpreted as a dying ember of Futurism.

Blowing Blues II - 1936
Kupka painted a number of paintings showing this sort of swirling, curving abstract design from around 1914 until much later in his career. Detours such as "The Machine Drill" seem to have been rare, so far as a Google searches indicate.