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František KUPKA

Study for Conte de pistils et d’étamines

Signed lower right Kupka
Gouache and watercolor on paper
28.7 x 23.5 cm (11 ¹/₄ x 9 ¹/₄ inches)

Private collection, Prague, Czech Republic 
Private collection, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Private collection, Mennens Belgium, by descent from the above

The authenticity of this work was confirmed by Pierre Brullé on 21November 2019.

Originally from eastern Bohemia, František Kupka began his career in Paris in the 1890s as an illustrator for fashion magazines and a poster designer. Having studied at the academy of fine arts in Prague, he continued his studies in Paris at the Académie Julian, and then with Jean-Pierre Laurens at the École des Beaux-Arts. Even though his style developed in a variety of ways, he remained marked by this training, even in his late works. His paintings reveal his sharp sense of construction and line and his considerable talents as a colorist.

After a period of realism, he turned toward abstraction, reflecting the scientific theories of the day. Kupka was the first artist to show completely abstract works in Paris, at the Salon d'Automne in 1912, which put him at the forefront of the avant-garde. Although he frequented the circle of Cubist artists in Puteaux, where he had lived since 1906, close to his friend Jacques Villon, he did not adhere to the theories of the Section d'Or group; he instead explored an aesthetic loaded with psychological, cosmic, and spiritual meaning. Refusing to be assimilated into Orphism or Purism, he became, at the invitation of Théo van Doesburg, one of the founding members of the Abstraction-Creation movement in 1931, though he began to distance himself from the group in 1934.

The following year, probably on the recommendation of his friend Marcel Duchamp, the director of the new MoMA, Alfred H. Barr, came to his studio and asked him to participate in the exhibition "Cubism and Abstract Art." This late recognition established Kupka's central place among the precursors of abstraction.

Between 1907 and 1913, the artist wrote a manifesto titled Creation in the Visual Arts; it was published in Prague in 1923, but was not translated into French until 1983. It established "a theory of abstract painting that had no equivalent at the time," as Philippe Dagen put it in his preface to the French edition. It is essential reading for the understanding of a unique type of abstraction founded on introspection.

Study forConte de pistils et d’étaminesis one of a series of works that Kupka classified as "Motifs imaginés" ("Imagined Designs"). Three paintings from this series are currently known: the one in the Narodni Gallery in Prague, dating from 1920, the one in the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, dating from 1923, and the one in the Fondation Wilhelm Hack in Ludwigshafen. It is considered to be his first important series after the war. The three paintings were shown at the La Boétie Gallery, which, in 1924, gave Kupka one of his first solo exhibitions. The series as a whole, so richly pictorial, focuses on the theme of fecundity, which Kupka addressed in a passage in Creation in the Visual Arts: "Each plant is crowned with flowers that it raises up before the light of day. The stamens, those exuberant phallic forms, fertilize the graceful pistils. A celebration of pollen in a gynoecium flooded with sun, enveloped in petals whose bloom protects the event of conception