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František Kupka (1871-1957)
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František Kupka (1871-1957)

Blanc sur bleu et rouge

František Kupka (1871-1957)
Blanc sur bleu et rouge
signed 'Kupka' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (72.3 x 80 cm.)
Painted circa 1934
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, by 1981.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
L. Vachtová, Frank Kupka, London, 1968, no. 319, p. 313.
Prague, Galerie S.V.U. Mánes, František Kupka, Výstava ?ivotního díla 1880-1946, 1946, no. 146.
New York, Louis Carré Gallery, 1951.
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Frank Kupka, February - April 1981, no. 22, p. 231 (illustrated p. 179; dated '1924').
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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Pierre Brullé has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Where do I really stand? I want to continue the journey I embarked upon when I freed myself from traditional painting, based on the use of natural forms… To define a painting means to see it as an appeal to read plastic forms. A painting achieves its end if those forms are presented as fully organic and logical identities… I tried to paint without nature. The result was chaos. I took refuge in elimination, getting rid of the trompe loeil, of the atmosphere, of every illusion of a third dimension. Afterwards I spent my time proving that it was possible to create freely. Geometric plans, correct defining of frontiers, nothing else. The break-up of painting made new forms and new configurations possible. Then came the lesson of machinism and I was back where I started in 1912 with a new spirit and a new technology.’ (F. Kupka, ‘Contribution to the annual Abstraction-Création, 1932 quoted in L. Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1968, p. 259)

Blanc sur bleu et rouge ('White on Blue and Red') is a major abstract composition made by Frantisek Kupka in the early 1930s. A powerful, dramatic and harmonious synthesis of simple abstract form it is a work that demonstrates how the artist emerged from a period of painting so-called ‘machinist’ pictures in the 1920s to then, once again, articulate a wholly abstract realm of pure form and space without recourse to the illusionism of attempting to represent three-dimensional forms on a two dimensional surface. With its unique co-ordination of primary-coloured disk-like forms and intersecting lines, this painting echoes in some places the apparent collation of machine parts into a single, cohesive, abstract composition that had distinguished Kupka’s ‘machinist’ pictures of the late 1920s. Blanc sur bleu et rouge can, in this respect, be seen, like his Hot Jazz and Music paintings of the early 1930s, to be, in part, a continuation of this theme into the realm of a purer and perhaps musically-inspired abstraction. But in the severity of its geometry and the picture’s complete reliance upon flat, disk-like images all harmoniously intersecting and augmenting one another, Blanc sur bleu et rouge is more of a work that anticipates the also musically-entitled series of abstractions known as the Divertimenti that Kupka was to make around 1935. Eschewing all aspects of the illusionism and trompe loeil that had often appeared in the ‘machinist’ pictures, Blanc sur bleu et rouge adopts the intersecting disc-like rhythm of these Divertimenti and translates it into a more universal open and idealized, abstract language of flat form and simple colour. And it is, ultimately, in this respect that these works mark the first stage of a tendency in Kupka’s work that would eventually culminate in his even more simplified geometric abstractions of the late 1930s and ‘40s known as the Contrasts and Elevations series.

Blanc sur bleu et rouge derives from a period when Kupka was inspired by the purist tendencies of the Abstraction- Création group that Kupka had helped to found in 1931. One of the earliest pioneers of abstraction in modern art (along with Kasimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky), Kupka had been working in a non-representational, abstract, ‘abstractionist’ or, as Guillaume Apollinaire preferred to call it, an ‘Orphist’ way, since 1911. As a photograph of Kupka in his studio in the Parisian suburb of Puteaux around 1933 illustrates, it was Kupka’s practice to work simultaneously on several different types of abstract paintings at the same time. Kupka often worked simultaneously on a series of cycles of paintings whose themes he would follow until they exhausted themselves or developed into other themes. In this photograph, Kupka is shown working on the large abstraction now in the Musée National d’art Moderne in Paris entitled Autour dun point along with another composition very similar in form and style to Blanc sur bleu et rouge. The vast, two-metre-square Autour dun point is a work that Kupka ultimately completed in 1934. Its origins and style derive, however from the first years of Kupka’s embracing of abstraction and he dated this picture 1911-1930 even though he would continue to work on the painting until finally completing it in 1934. Its date reflects therefore both its conceptual origins and the time of its conceptual completion; not the date that Kupka actually completed work on it. The pictorial concept of the image, as well as the manner of its realisation was, evidently, therefore, of central importance to the artist.

This tendency is one that can also be seen in Blanc sur bleu et rouge where, despite the manifest simplicity and clarity of its form, colour and composition, the hand-crafted, painterly nature of the painting and the texture of its surface has been elegantly emphasized as if in counterpart to the geometric severity of its concept. ‘Once you realize that it is impossible to capture the character of the various manifestations of nature by pictorial means,’ Kupka once wrote, ‘and that an interpretation based on imagination is equally erroneous, you will not find yourself facing a gaping void as you might have feared. The art of painting is essentially that of making an appeal to read the various combinations of plastic signs and light and colour values’ (F. Kupka, La Vie des Lettres, July, 1921, quoted in L. Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1968, p. 285).

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