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The Property of a Private European Charitable Foundation

Composition triangulaire

Composition triangulaire
signed 'Kupka' (lower right)
oil on canvas
26 1⁄8 x 28 in. (66.3 x 71 cm.)
Painted in 1920-1921
Eugénie Kupka, Paris (wife of the artist).
Rose Fried Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, June 1958).
Ludmilla and Hans Arnhold, New York (acquired from the above, 1 December 1958, then by descent).
Private Foundation, Europe (gift from the above).
V. Lekeš, František Kupka: Catalogue raisonné des huiles, Prague, 2016, p. 275, no. 157 (illustrated).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Kunsthaus Zürich, František Kupka: A Retrospective, October 1975-March 1976, p. 232, no. 134 (illustrated, p. 233).
Further details
Pierre Brullé has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Among the leading pioneers of abstraction during the opening decades of the twentieth century, the Czech artist František Kupka was something of a solitary figure within the story of modernism. Although based in Paris since 1895 and closely acquainted with many of the city’s leading avant-garde artists, Kupka remained defiantly independent throughout his career, pursuing his own singular artistic vision in his approach to painting rather than aligning with any group or movement. Employing a practice that was meticulous and reflective, constantly analyzing and reassessing his approach to form, color and materials, Kupka sought to capture the fundamental connection between art, nature and the universe in his work. In paintings such as Composition triangulaire, his unique, visionary approach to form reveals itself, as the organic intertwines with the metaphysical, each touch of pigment conveying a sense of the invisible, vibrating energies that underpin not only life on this planet, but also the cosmos as a whole. Last seen at public exhibition in 1975 on the occasion of artist’s seminal retrospective at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, this is the first time that Composition triangulaire has appeared at auction.
At the outbreak of World War I, Kupka had voluntarily enlisted in the French army and was swiftly deployed to the front lines. He fought at the Somme before illness forced him to return to Paris, where he organized the city’s Czech volunteers and produced anti-German propaganda. It was only following the end of the conflict that Kupka re-immersed himself in his painterly work once again, revisiting many of the themes and ideas that had occupied his imagination before the war, testing their resonance and potential for further study. Through the early 1920s, his compositions were marked by a renewed interest in biological forms and processes, as he searched for connections between different elements, from the refractions of an ice crystal and the reverberations of a wave, to the growth and evolution of plant life. “Once you realize that it is impossible to capture the character of the various manifestations of nature by pictorial means,” Kupka wrote in 1921, around the same time he was working on Composition triangulaire, “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 color values” (La Vie des Lettres, July, 1921; quoted in L. Vachtova, Frank Kupka, London, 1968, p. 285).
In Composition triangulaire passages of dynamic, brightly colored brushwork appear to echo the shapes and structure of a plant, the cascading rows of gently curving green, red, blue and orange lines recalling stems, leaves and flowers among the passages of white pigment. An avid reader of scientific journals and treatises, Kupka was well versed in contemporary theories relating to physics, biology, optics, neurology and astronomy, and found a well of inspiration among their descriptions of various phenomena. While the title of Composition triangulaire focuses solely on the geometric shapes that emerge, the composition appears to connect back to a series of works from 1919 and 1920 in which Kupka focused on the reproductive elements of a flower, such as Conte de pistils et d’étamines (Lekeš, no. 191; Národní Galerie, Prague). Here, a similar sense of vitality and vigor permeates the canvas, as the rhythmic ribbons of color are transcribed using short, parallel touches of the brush, lending the forms a palpable energy, as if they are vibrating before the eye. At the opening of Kupka’s first solo-exhibition in Paris in 1921, it was this vivid sense of internal energy and life in the artist’s work that the critic for Le Journal de people celebrated in his review: “These moving arabesques, they are the wind, they are the flame, they are the lightning, they are the waves, they are the sprays of geysers, they are the gushing of springs... everything that pulses with the enormous vitality of nature! And they are above all the representation of invisible elements, fluids, electricity, heat…” (quoted in Kupka—Pionnier de l’abstraction, exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, 2018, p. 274).

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