František Kupka: The Road to Amorpha
The exhibition has been organized by the National Gallery in Prague, The Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art
Authors of the project: Markéta Theinhardt, Pierre Brullé
Curators: Helena Musilová, Michaela Brixová
Collaboration: Museum Kampa - Jan and Meda Mladek Foundation
Installation design: Architektonický ateliér SLG projekt (Jiří Javůrek, Silvie Bednaříková)
Graphic design: Grafické studio Heyduk, Musil & Strnad, s.r.o. (hmsdesign.cz), Pavel Bosák - studio Valero
Educational programmes: Educational Department of the Collection of 19th-Century Art and the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art of the National Gallery in Prague:
Oldřich Bystřický, Michaela Matysová, Hana Rosenkrancová, Monika Sybolová, Michaela Vrchotová and Veronika Výprachtická
Venue: Salm Palace
Date: 30 November 2012 - 3 March 2013
No other name of Czech origin reverberates in modern art as strongly as that of František (Frank, François) Kupka. The reason is simple: abstract art represents a crucial theme in the art history of the 20th century, and František Kupka (together with Robert Delaunay and Wassily Kandinsky) is one of its founders. Kupka lived a long life and influenced the evolution of visual arts over many decades. However, the decisive moment of his entry onto the international art stage (with Paris as its indisputable artistic centre) was the showing of his paintings Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours and Amorpha, Warm Chromatics at the Salon d'Automne of 1912. It was this venue that is traditionally believed to mark the very first public presentation of abstract art ever.
Markéta Theinhardt and Pierre Brullé, the authors of the František Kupka: The Road to Amorpha. Kupka's Salons: 1899-1913 exhibition concept, chose that landmark event as the culmination and final point of the entire project. Based on their profound knowledge of historical sources, they decided to trace the road that had led to that point in art history, documenting the artist's creative course on specific works of art. Unusual in terms of the detailed research, their highly demanding project bore fruit: for a limited period, between November 30, 2012 and March 3, 2013, visitors to Salm Palace will be able to witness, virtually step by step, the birth of abstract art in the work of František Kupka.
The National Gallery in Prague has facilitated this unique opportunity to visitors through close collaboration with lenders from all over the world. The lending institutions abroad include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Guggenheim Museum in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. The authors of the exhibition would not have achieved their objective without the cooperation of Czech lenders. The organizers extend their special thanks to Museum Kampa - Jan and Meda Mladek Foundation and the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. Some of the works on view are on loan from private collections in the Czech Republic and abroad.
This relatively small, yet highly representative ensemble brings together paintings of seminal importance, which Kupka exhibited at Paris Salons until 1913 (regarding them as finished and definitive), as well as numerous preparatory studies for those images. This gives viewers a unique opportunity to explore the artist's development through works that are closely related but for many decades have been - and will be again - dispersed around the world. Essentially, the exhibition traces the road that led to the creation of "programmatic" paintings. Through the display's individual sections, each devoted to the individual Salons attended by Kupka, visitors can examine the artist's approach to a variety of art-related problems and issues.
When Kupka moved to Paris in the mid-1890s, he had already been an accomplished artist in Vienna. Once in Paris, he had to make a fresh start, just as all other young newcomers. He began by making fashion designs and drawings for illustrated magazines, but aspired for higher goals. The first time that Kupka exhibited at a Paris Salon was in 1899. His oil The Book Lover (Le Bibliomane) was of crucial importance to him: through this work he presented himself as a painter who mastered the then fashionable Paris Salon style of painting. In 1902, Kupka submitted his Epona-Ballade, The Joys to the Salon de la Société nationale. Although it drew little response from Paris audiences, the painting was awarded a medal at the World Exposition in St. Louis, USA (1904).
In 1906, he moved from Montmartre to a small house in Puteaux. In 1906, after receiving a commission to illustrate a luxury edition of The Erinyes by Leconte de Lisle, Kupka immersed himself in the study of ancient Greece. That same year, he submitted to the Salon d'Automne his painting Autumn Sun, whose composition was derived from a classical iconographic schema that combined the themes of the Three Graces and the Hesperides. Greek mythology continued to inspire Kupka in later years as well. At the 1907 Salon d'Automne, the artist presented his Design for a Mural Painting (Apotheosis of Hélène) that was also related to his book illustration work. He completed the images for The Erinyes in 1908 and showed the prints from the book at that year's Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts.
Kupka took part in the Salon d'Automne again in 1910, after a two-year hiatus. From that time onwards, he would participate in all the Salons (Indépendants and Automne) until the end of 1913. Kupka contributed four paintings to the 1910 Salon d'Automne, with The Yellow Scale undoubtedly being the most remarkable. As the title suggests, in this painting the artist explored the meaning of colour as an independent phenomenon in its own right. Another exhibited canvas, The Red Lipstick, highlights in a similar vein the play of colour around the lips and the lipstick. The Yellow Scale and the Lipstick picture form a complementary whole, juxtaposing two different approaches to the same creative issue.
At the 1911 Salon des Indépendents (his first participation there), Kupka exhibited three paintings inspired by the theme of loose women, or "gigolettes". In these works, Kupka systematically studied various angles and poses of the figures: a close-up profile, a half-length figure en face and a full-length figure. Painted in what was seemingly a single brush stroke, the Gigolette (Lo, The Cow) image is more stylized than Gallien's Taste. Visually, it shows a clear influence of the archaic style inspired by the recently discovered Minoan art (by no mere coincidence, one of its mural paintings was nicknamed at the time "Parisian Woman"). Similarly, the graphically rendered silhouettes of the gigolettes are arranged in the pictorial surface as in an ancient frieze.
Kupka exhibited two paintings at the Salon d'Automne of 1911: Planes by Colours (Large Nude) and Portrait (Family Portrait). These two very different images reflect the artist's intensive pictorial investigations. Based on an original aesthetic concept of "colour planes", Large Nude is the outcome of years of contemplations and preparations; the artist made a great many (extant) preparatory studies, especially pastels, documenting the evolution of his concept of colour. Despite the painting's indisputable sense of sculptural volume, Kupka turned his attention to visual elements inherent to painting: lines, planes, light and colour. The other exhibited piece, Family Portrait, representing Kupka's wife Ninie and her daughter Andrée, correlates with the Large Nude especially in its treatment of colour.
For the 1912 Salon des Indépendants, Kupka chose to exhibit three works under the joint title of Planes by Colours. The name, which he had given to the Large Nude shown at the previous Salon d'Automne, had a decidedly programmatic function. Entitled Woman in Triangles, The Musician Follot and Oval Mirror, these were the last figurative paintings that Kupka exhibited at the Salons. Together they composed a coherent ensemble, one of the reasons being that Kupka had articulated the paintings' surfaces in a consistently geometric fashion
At the Salon d'Automne of 1912, Hall XI (termed by journalists as the Cubist Hall) provoked a huge scandal. A preserved photograph of this room shows the exhibition space dominated by a large abstract painting by Kupka. The artist submitted two canvases to the Autumn Salon: Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours and Amorpha, Warm Chromatics. This was the first time Kupka publicly presented the results of his creative search of eurhythmias (regularly articulated movement) and symmorphies ("symphonies of colours"). Amorpha (the shared title of these two works) is illustrative of the artist's desire to disengage himself from representing forms perceived in the visible world. However, it was not Kupka's Amorphas that gave the famous hall its name, but rather the Dancer in a Café by Jean Metzinger and Man on a Balcony by Albert Gleizes.
The Cubist Hall was a logical name. It was in 1912 that Gleizes and Metzinger published their slim booklet entitled Du "Cubisme", one of the first major treatises on Cubism, and both artists were intrinsically associated with the term Cubism. As both these works have been lent to the Prague exhibition, Czech audiences now have an exceptional opportunity to see the two artists' works again after many years. The paintings were seldom presented in Prague after 1914, due to Vincenc Kramář, a Czech theoretician and collector of Cubist art, who excluded the works from his treatise on the development of the Cubist art movement. In exhibiting these paintings, the National Gallery in Prague thereby repays its nearly century-old debt to the Czech public.
The organizers of the new Salon de la Section d'or (that followed the Second Exhibition of Contemporary Art held at the end of 1911) had the ambition to further expose the pioneering movement in modern art to a wider audience. Kupka is believed to have exhibited three paintings there: Complex, Compliment and Constant, probably with the intention of introducing yet another aspect of his creative endeavours: a sort of complement - or perhaps even antipole - to his paintings submitted to the Salon d'Automne.
The 1913 Salon des Indépendants was announced by art critics in several period articles as marking the onset of a new movement called Orphism. Kupka showed two works at the Salon: Vertical Planes and Solo of a Brown Line. The paintings were exhibited in Hall XLV that showcased "Orphic paintings". Following his curvilinear Amorpha paintings, presented at the 1912 Salon d'Automne, and his compositions of spots and irregular lines exhibited at the Salon de la Section d'or, Kupka expanded his visual vocabulary to include verticals and "progression in duration". There exist two versions of the Vertical Planes. In all probability, the one marked with the number III was exhibited at the Salon de la Section d'or in 1913, which - in terms of brushwork - appears to be a more finished and compact variant.
At the 1913 Salon d'Automne, Kupka exhibited two paintings titled Localization of Graphic Motifs that illustrated yet another dimension of his complex conception of non-figurative art. According to the artist, the subject of space and its "representation" on a canvas (plane) was not only a matter of geometry, or hyperbolic geometry, as that can only offer certain methods. "It is necessary for an artist to seek and find a means by which he may express the material likeness of all movements and states of his inner life and through which he may capture all abstractions". Like at the previous Salons, Kupka's selection of two complementary works demonstrates the artist's desire to choose a visual idiom in which "one is defined by the other" and thus facilitate a better comprehension of his creative thought. While closely related to each other and even sharing the same name, the two paintings show two different treatments of fragmentary vision in a subjective mental space.
Kupka was not represented at the Salon des Indépendants staged at the beginning of 1914 and the Salon d'Automne did not open at all that year. World War I had just broken out, destroying or deeply affecting the lives of many artists. Kupka enlisted as a volunteer and actively engaged in his native country's independence movement. He resumed his pre-war artistic pursuits only after a long hiatus.
The "Kupka" exhibition includes a selection of works by Kupka from Museum Kampa's collections, which Meda Mladek obtained in 2011 from the American art historian and collector Lilli Lonngren Anders. This ensemble contains preparatory sketches, watercolours and oil paintings that document, in a truly fascinating manner, Kupka's creative thought on specific art issues. This preparatory material shows the artist's creative process; its final outcome can be appreciated in several paintings in the following rooms of the exhibition.
The exhibition is complemented by a small display of documentary material from the Waldes Archives that the National Gallery in Prague obtained in 2012 with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. The Waldes Archives contains unique documents attesting to the relationship between Jindřich Waldes (1876-1941), a prominent patron of the arts, and artists under his patronage.
Production: Ivana Nováková
Registrar: Magda Němcová
Realization: Vetamber s. r. o.
English translation: Linda Paukertová
Restoration work: Restaurátorské oddělení Národní galerie v Praze (Naďa Konvalinková, Petr Kuthan, Jarmila Franková)
Installation: Instalační skupina Národní galerie v Praze
Illumination: Etna spol. s r.o.
Transportation: Kunsttrans Praha
Promotion: Nikolaj Savický, Marek Gregor, Klára Pašková
We owe our special thanks to Meda Mladek and Jiří Pospíšil.
We extend our thanks to institutions and private collectors for their generous loans to this exhibition and invaluable assistance during the preparations of the exhibition.
Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic / Czech Centre in Paris / Daniel Marchesseau, Paris
Jiří Rybář, 1. Art Consulting Brno - Praha / Pierre Lévy, French Ambassador to the Czech Republic
French Institute in Prague / Charlotta Kotik, Brooklyn, New York - Prague / Noëlle Pourret, Agence photo RMN, Paris, Philip Rylands, Director, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Maximilien Theinhardt, Paris, Albright-Knox Art Gallery Buffalo, New York / Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Museum Kampa - Jan and Meda Mladek Foundation, Prague / Museum of Modern Art, New York / The Philadelphia Museum of Art / Prague Castle Picture Gallery, Prague / The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Patron of the exhibition:
Securitas, Státní fond kultury ČR, ERSTE Premier
Museum Kampa - Nadace Jana a Medy Mládkových
Main media partners:
Česká televize, Český rozhlas, iDnes.cz, Lidové noviny, Respekt
JCD Decaux, Hlavní město Praha, Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy, RailReklam, ANOPRESS IT, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Dolce Vita, Art&Antiques, Česká pozice, Prager Zeitung, Boomerang publishing, ArtMap, Neternity Group, Prague Events Calendar, Bedna Films
Hradčanské nám. 1,2
118 01 Praha 1
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Reduced: 80 CZK
Family: 200 CZK
School groups: 20 CZK
Price of TRIANGL combined entrance ticket (Sternberg Palace, Schwarzenberg Palace and Salm Palace):
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Reduced: 100 CZK
Family: 300 CZK
School groups: 50 CZK
Press release of November 29, 2012
Eva Kolerusová, NG's Public Relations Department, phone: 222 321 459, mobil: 724 501 535