Please note that the authenticity of this work has been kindly confirmed by Pierre Brullé.
On his return from the war - where he fought for France at the Somme and then, after injury, organized the Czechoslovakian anti-German resistance in Paris - Kupka immersed himself back in his research. At the time La cathédrale was painted, Kupka had just finished the translation into Czech of his treaty, La creation dans les arts plastiques, published finally in 1923 and one of the most important theoretical treatises ever published on abstract art, placing him in the company of fellow artists and theorists, Kandinsky, Malevich, and his lifelong friend Auguste Herbin. In it he does not ridicule or otherwise judge figural arts versus non-figural, distinguishing them simply as two categories: “On the one hand, there are those that attest to the deliberate seizing of impressions received from forms emerging from nature in a conscious way. On the other, however, there are those in which the painter of the sculptor requires us to decipher a speculative thought translated into a combination of plastic or chromatic elements […] Legibility...is linked to the technique and the media put to work. Everything depends on brushstrokes, lines, the relationship between areas and light values, upon harmonies between colours and proportions.” (from La creation dans les arts plastiques, quoted in S. Fauchereau, Kupka, New York 1989, p. 19).
Nevertheless, he admits that in art, and in the almost mythical pursuit of forms, there are “survivals from the religions of the past” (Ibid. p. 19). The theme of vertical and diagonal planes, as well as imparting stability and tension in the present work - and in its more widely known predecessor of the same title (fig. 1) - spoke to the artist of architecture and music and stained-glass windows, evidence of the mythical relics he speaks of. The early 1920s saw Kupka return to develop ideas and rework canvases he had not finished formally before the war. Kupka is known to have worked on a theme for many years, even specifying a thematic rather than chronological categorization of his work. The present version of La cathédrale, introduces an organic characteristic that would grow through the 1920s. The verticals quiver and distort, like ice formations defracting light. Kupka wrote to his friend Jindrich Waldes in 1921 that, “The source of formal correlations can be found anywhere: under a microscope, before the skyscrapers of New York or in an observatory.” (quoted Ibid. p. 21) There is something of this in La cathédrale, and it could be said, in the whole of Kupka’s artistic output.