František Kupka. Mme Kupka among Verticals. 1910–11. Oil on canvas, 53 3/8 × 33 5/8" (135.5 × 85.3 cm). Hillman Periodicals Fund. © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

“[C]olor exists only through other colors. This is the basis for all color theories.”

František Kupka

Shortly before he died in 1957, František Kupka sold Mme Kupka among Verticals, a work he had stored in his studio for nearly 45 years after its completion in 1910–11, to The Museum of Modern Art. In this oil painting, dynamic, fractured strokes of color surround the face of Eugénie Straub Broad, the artist's wife and muse. Eugénie’s delicate features—her tilted chin, slightly parted lips, and closed eyes—emerge from these irregular, choppy vertical brushstrokes. Reusing an unfinished portrait of his wife, made years earlier when he was working in a Symbolist vein, Kupka transformed her likeness into something barely figural. The result, like many of his important paintings and works on paper, plays between abstraction and portraiture. He would soon tip the balance toward total abstraction, becoming one of the earliest artists to do so.

The oldest of five children, Kupka was born in Opočno, a small town in Bohemia (now a part of the Czech Republic). As a young teen he worked for a saddle maker who introduced him to spiritualism and ideas about the cosmos, concepts he would later draw upon in early drawings and paintings that explored the relationship between religion, color, and geometry. Following his training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and later at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Kupka moved to Paris in 1896. Inspired by the Neo-Impressionist and Fauvist paintings he saw in Paris exhibitions, he began experimenting with different styles, all while supporting himself as a caricaturist for satirical magazines.

By the end of the decade, Kupka had begun studying the association between shape and color, initially through the verticals in Mme Kupka among Verticals and The Musician Follot (c. 1911, dated 1910), and later culminating in his landmark painting Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, which was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in 1912. This canvas, now in the collection of the Prague National Gallery, was one of the first abstract paintings shown in Paris. Thirty-nine of Kupka’s circular studies for this painting are in MoMA’s collection. Each of these fully abstract drawings demonstrates the artist’s intense, iterative experimentation with the motif as he progressed towards the completed work. They stand as some of the earliest examples of abstraction, testing the effects of a limited color palette and disregarding conventional perspective to suggest movement in the swirling, circular forms.

For MoMA’s 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, founding director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., included two Kupka paintings from 1912–13 (Disks of Newton and Vertical Planes) and Elementary Toy (1931) next to Robert Delaunay's Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon (1913). The Museum acquired its first Kupka painting in 1951, Red and Blue Disks (1911–12). Before his death, the artist and his wife gave MoMA nearly 500 early gouache, watercolor, and pencil studies in which he continued to push the boundaries of nonrepresentational art. Barr’s decision to include Kupka in MoMA’s exhibition of abstraction and Cubism, which Barr called “a historical survey of an important movement in modern art,”1 was early recognition of Kupka’s significance within the history of modernism.

Note: Opening quote is from František Kupka. La création dans les arts plastiques (Paris: Cercle d’art, 1989), p. 139, 141, quoted and cited in Anděl, Jaroslav, Dorothy M. Kosinski, Jaroslav. Anděl, and František Kupka. Painting the Universe, František Kupka : Pioneer in Abstraction (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1997), 76.

Emily Cushman, Collection Specialist, Department of Drawings and Prints, 2016

  1. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Cubism and Abstract Art: Painting, Sculpture, Constructions, Photography, Architecture, Industrial Art, Theatre, Films, Posters, Typography (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1936), 9.

Wikipedia entry
František Kupka (23 September 1871 – 24 June 1957), also known as Frank Kupka or François Kupka, was a Czech painter and graphic artist. He was a pioneer and co-founder of the early phases of the abstract art movement and Orphic Cubism (Orphism). Kupka's abstract works arose from a base of realism, but later evolved into pure abstract art.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Pioneer of abstract painting in Europe. From 1887 until 1891 he studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts and at the Vienna Bildenden Künste 1892-1893. Influenced by the painter and philosopher Karl Diefenbach. Settled in Paris in 1895 and earned his living as an illustrator and cartoonist. He continued to illustrate books as he developed a separate abstract painting style that emerged out of Symbolism. Along with Robert Delaunay and Kandinsky, he developed a non-objective style preoccupied with musical rhythym and color. Kupka was interested in optics, physiology, and anthropology. Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term Orphism around 1912 in response to the work of Kupka, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, and others who were developing their own response to Cubism and Futurism.
Czech, Bohemian, French
Artist, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Painter
František Kupka, Frank Kupka, Frantz Kupka, F. Kupka, F. Ḳupḳah, François Kupka, פ. קופקה, Franck Kupka, Frantisek Kupka, Frans Kupka, Franz Kupka, Kupka
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


51 works online



  • Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 376 pages

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