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František Kupka (1871-1957)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more ABSTRACTION BEYOND BORDERS: WORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTIONFrom Paris to Munich, Berlin, Milan and Hanover, in the opening decades of the Twentieth Century, a number of artists created art that radically differed from those of their predecessors. Working across Europe, these pioneering provocateurs, radicals and trailblazers – Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, František Kupka, to name just a few – shunned the last vestiges of illusionism to instead create unprecedented works with no visible, recognisable or definable subject matter. Liberating colour, line and form from their centuries-old descriptive role, they overturned pictorial tradition, embarking on an abstract adventure that would come to define art of the Twentieth Century. Crossing geographical boundaries, encompassing a variety of media, and often blurring traditional distinctions of painting and sculpture, abstraction spread with an extraordinary speed, transforming artistic practice forever.From the initial steps towards a new artistic language, to the paradigmatic embodiment of this concept, this diverse group of works embodies this varied, experimental and groundbreaking path of abstraction, demonstrating the variety of ways that artists across the globe embraced this radical practice. Braque’s cubist composition, Cartes et cornet à dés presents the origin of this move towards a new, non-representational artistic language. Along with Picasso – the pair, ‘like mountain-climbers roped together’, as Braque recalled of this frenzied period of seismic innovation – the artist undermined conventional notions of perspective, opening the door to a whole new way of depicting the world. As rebellious as the cubists’ rejection of the centuries-old rules of representation, Picabia’s playful collage Sans titre (Pot de fleurs) uses the very materials of art making to parody the mimetic traditions of art, creating a semi-abstract play of colour and line. Far removed from any trace of the recognisable world, Kurt Schwitters’ rare Merz relief, Das Richard-Freitag-Bild dates from the height of his involvement with the International Constructivist movement. It was executed during a period when he was codifying Merz – the one-man art movement that he created in 1919 – into a utopian Constructivist language of form, taking the deconstruction of Dada and combining it with the aims of Constructivism. Following the same aesthetic, Georges Vantongerloo’s perfectly composed De Stijl composition embodies the tenets of geometric abstraction. In addition, Kupka, one of the leading pioneers of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this collection with a rare composition entitled Series C, III, Elevation, a work that marries his elegant abstract idiom with the deeper, spiritual dimension that was often the source of his abstractions.By contrast, Magritte, an artist whose unique form of Surrealism serves as the very antithesis to the development of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this group with an important early painting, Les signes du soir. A pictorial trompe l’oeil riddle, with this painting Magritte confuses, undermines and questions the entire nature of representational painting, paving the way for the conceptual art that dominated artistic production of the post-war era. From the purely formal – Schwitters and Vantongerloo – to the spiritual, mystic or surreal – Kupka, Jawlensky, Magritte and Picasso, this collection, assembled with the eye of an aesthete, encapsulates the multi-faceted nature and pioneering spirit of modernist abstraction throughout the Twentieth Century. Their curiosity, daring eclecticism and pioneering spirit of exploration nearly 100 years ago paved the way for artists and collectors today.
František Kupka (1871-1957)

Série C, III, Élévations

Details
František Kupka (1871-1957)
Série C, III, Élévations
signed and dated 'Kupka 38' (lower right)
oil on canvas
37 3/8 x 40 1/8 in. (95 x 102 cm.)
Painted in 1935-1938
Provenance
Galerie Louis Carré & Cie., Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist, until at least 1988.
Claude Bernard Gallery, New York, by 1990.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1991.
Literature
Réalités Nouvelles, no. 1, Paris, 1947, p. 45 (illustrated).
R. V. Gindertael, 'Kupka', in Art d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1952, no. 6 (illustrated p. 89).
F. Bayl, 'Pariser Chronik', in das kunstwerk, Baden-Baden, vol. XVIII, no. 1-3, July - September 1964, p. 89 (illustrated).
D. Fédit, Inventaire des collections publiques françaises, Musée National d'Art Moderne, vol. 13, L'oeuvre de Kupka, Paris, 1966, p. 152 (dated '1932-1938').
Exh. cat., Kupka, New York, 1975, p. 298.
S. Fauchereau, Kupka, Paris, 1988, no. 157, p. 128 (illustrated n.p.; dated '1938').
K. Srp, František Kupka: Geometrie myšlenek, Revnice, 2012, no. 117, p. 139 (illustrated; dated '1938').
A. Husslein-Arco, L. & V. Lekeš & E. Zlatohlávková, František Kupka, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Prague, 2016, no. 331, p. 518 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Prague, Galerie S.V.U. Mánes, František Kupka, Výstava ?ivotního díla 1880-1946, November - December 1946, no. 96.
Paris, Palais des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, 2ème Salon des Réalités nouvelles: Art abstrait, concret, constructivisme, non-figuratif, orphisme, July - August 1947, no. 181, p. 16 (titled 'Série contrastes III' and dated '1938').
New York, Louis Carré Gallery, Kupka, May - June 1951, no. 14, p. 24 (illustrated p. 22; with incorrect dimensions).
Zurich, Helmhaus, konkrete kunst, 50 jahre entwicklung, June - August 1960, no. 62, p. 30 (illustrated; dated '1938').
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Kupka, peintures 1910-1946, May - July 1964, no. 21, n.p. (dated '1938').
New York, Claude Bernard Gallery, Kupka: Paintings and gouaches, October - November 1990, no. 10, p. 48 (illustrated n.p.; dated '1938').
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Frank Kupka, Die andere Realität, April - July 1995, p. 188, n.p. (illustrated p. 189; dated '1938').
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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Pierre Brullé has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Série C, III, Élévations is one of a highly important series of paintings known as Contrast-Elevations that mark the culmination of Frantisek Kupka’s pioneering experimentation with abstract pictorial form. This series of, (in the main), approximately one-metre-square, abstract paintings articulating a dynamic sense of spatial contrasts using vertical and horizontal form, was created between 1935 and 1946 and first exhibited together as a completed group in Prague, in 1946. It was at this impressive and important exhibition of these works, soon after the Second World War, that the sixth numbered painting from this series, Series C VI, Elevation, was acquired by the National Gallery of Prague for its permanent collection.

Kupka, as his friend Marcel Duchamp was at pains to point out in his introduction to the Czech artist’s later exhibition in New York in 1951, has a significant claim, alongside the Russian painters Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, to be regarded as a ‘founding father’ of modern painterly abstraction. Indeed, Kupka’s abstract paintings of 1911-1913 are arguably the very first complete, pictorial abstractions in the history of modern art. But, more importantly, it was the simple themes outlined in Kupka’s pioneering early abstractions that were to lay the foundation for almost all of his paintings that followed. From this moment onwards, Kupka would always produce predominantly abstract paintings in a series of ever-developing cycles or families of paintings. These groups of paintings, often based around specific themes, were to have no strict chronology, but were worked on until their theme became exhausted or it morphed into and gave rise to another.

Série C, III, Élévations belongs to the cycle of paintings Kupka called ‘Contrast-Elevations’ begun in 1935 and completed in 1946. This third painting in the series is believed to have been completed between 1935 and 1938. Like the earlier works in this cycle, its play of ‘contrasts’ between vertical and horizontal geometric form are augmented around a central sequence of vertical columns that rise (almost in in the manner of a skyscraper) and split the composition of the square canvas down the middle. In this aspect, and in its use of a simple pattern of colour-contrasting rectangles, the painting echoes in part both the designs that Sophie Täuber-Arp made in 1926 for ‘L’Aubette’ in Strasbourg and the celebrated architectonics of utopian visionaries like Malevich.

As these precedents might suggest, Kupka’s Contrast-Elevations are paintings that imply such a grandeur of abstract form that it pictorially echoes the architectural ambition voiced by much of the International Constructivism of the 1920s and early ‘30s. For Kupka, who was living in Paris throughout this period, it was the ideas of Abstraction-Création that had proved most influential for him. From his very first abstract paintings of 1911-13 onwards, Kupka had never ceased to reflect, for example, on the compositional possibilities inherent within a strict combination of simple verticals and horizontals. As it had been for Mondrian, the combination of these two, most fundamental geometric forms - the horizontal and the vertical - seemed to underpin much of his thinking about pictorial form. Kupka had first experimented with organic abstract form and, then later, in the mid-1920s, with harder-edged and more mechanical forms. By the 1930s, he had resolved to root his forms, once again, in nature. After the ‘lesson of machinisim’ he wrote in the annual Abstraction-Création in 1932, ‘I was back where I started in 1912 [but] with a new spirit and a new technology.’ (F. Kupka, quoted in L. Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1968, p. 297). In his seminal text on his own work, La Création dans les arts plastiques, Kupka described how the fundamentals of this new approach were founded upon a sense of the vertical, the horizontal and the contrasts established between them. ‘The vertical contains all the majesty of the static. It also contains the high and the low and joins them, yet divides space horizontally. Reproduced in a series of parallels, the vertical becomes an anguished, silent expectation that responds to the horizontal’ (F. Kupka, ‘La Création dans les arts plastiques’, in S. Fauchereau, Kupka, New York, 1989, p. 27). As can also be seen in Série C, III, Élévations, it was always Kupka’s intention to provide his verticals with a solid foundation through a horizontal base, for, as he also believed, ‘the horizontal is Gaia, the great earth mother’ (F. Kupka, quoted in ibid, p. 27) .

Adopting this almost spiritual understanding of the power of the vertical and the horizontal to create tensions and articulate a near-emotional vision of space Kupka was able, in a work like Série C, III, Élévations for example, to create a picture that, although formed from principles very close to those of an artist like Mondrian, attains startlingly different results. Kupka’s distribution of blanks and colours does not offer a picture of static tranquility, like Mondrian. Instead, a dynamic space is attained that here, has been endowed also with a surprising sense of tension and movement. Space, in this work appears to be both articulated, stretched and punctured by the sublime rhythm of Kupka’s forms and the overall balance of his composition. In this, Kupka’s approach reflects a musical approach to form - one that he acknowledged when he wrote: ‘We imagine space either as an expanse defined by material limits, or else as an expanse that is without limits, abstract, analogous to our idea of the void…and of silence. Not so long ago, composers included many pauses in music. There were blanks, intervals, deliberate gaps, each one with a precise function.’ (F. Kupka ‘La Création dans les arts plastiques’ quoted in ibid, p. 27). It is this sublime and infinite sense of space, made visible through its interaction with form that a painting like Série C, III, Élévations both celebrates and reveals.

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