Although painter František Kupka spent most of his creative live in Paris, he is perceived as the most significant Czech painter of the 20th century. His works are part of all world collections and his name can be found in every fundamental publication on Abstract Art. Kupka studied painting at two conservative Academies – in Prague and Vienna – during the 1890s, soon, however, eventually settling in Paris (1896). In the beginning of his career, he was faithful to realistic representation, made his living on drawing illustrations for humorist magazines and painted his social-critical series. His talent was rather apparent even then. In the early 20th century, he worked on the world-famous illustrations for the book Elisée Recluse L´Homme et la Terre and created numerous bibliophile editions (e.g., The Song of Songs). He was interested in occultism, astrology and spiritualism, whose ideas finally brought him to Abstract Painting. Kupka did not arrive at Abstractionism through the process of loosening realistic forms in painting, but through the very process of thinking. In painting, he went through the influences of both Impressionism and Fauvism. He elaborated on his theories about his liberation from representative painting in the book Creation in Plastic Arts which he published in Prague in 1923. But he created his paintings of imaginary worlds and the universe – paintings that were followed by his entirely pioneering abstract work – already before the war. After the war, Kupka met the Prague manufacturer and patron, Jindřich Waldes who significantly supported him. Waldes’ collection of Kupka’s works was nationalized after the Second World War. It was restituted by Waldes’ descendants only as late as in the 21st century and part of it was purchased for the collections of the National Gallery in Prague. In 1920, Kupka was appointed Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts with the seat in Paris. He subsequently published the legendary book of abstract linocuts, Quatre histoires de blanc et noir (Four Stories of Black and White). In 1947, his large exhibition was held in Prague and the State purchased 40 paintings from him. He, however, enjoyed more significant recognition only as late as during the 1960s. Kupka – along with Wassily Kandinskij and Kazimir Malevich – ranks to the pioneers of the 20th-century revolutionary art which did not want to illustrate the reality and to imitate it through representation, but to create a new reality. Kupka was born in the same year as Piet Mondrian, shared a girlfriend with Toulouse-Lautrec, was a friend of Marcel Duchamp and hated Picasso, fought on the battlefields of the First World War, and even lived to see the start of the first artificial satellites and outlived Jackson Pollock. The span of his life and work, embedded in Symbolism and nurtured by countless stimuli from natural sciences, is a perfect fusion of the ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries and it has never ceased to fascinate by its prognostic orientation.
* 1871, Opočno, Czech Republic