František Kupka, Study in Verticals (The Cathedral), 1912
16 x 8.875 in.
František Kupka (1871-1957) was a Czech painter and graphic artist and a pioneer of abstract art. Born in Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Kupka studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. While there, he painted historical and patriotic subjects. He then enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he worked with symbolic and allegorical subjects. He had his first exhibition while in Vienna, and it was around this time that he developed an interest in Eastern Philosophy and theosophy, which would have some degree of influence on his work for the rest of his life. In 1894 he moved to Paris where he spent much of his life. While his earliest works are realistic, Kupka soon progressed to fantastical and surreal imagery. Kupka began to explore abstraction, and developed a unique style which developed into what the poet Gustave Apollinaire called (for unclear reasons) Orphic cubism. In addition to his work with vertical lines and cubism, Kupka delved into a pure abstraction that favored round shapes, as in his Discs of Newton. Study in Verticals is one of multiple cubist explorations of a cathedral. It is easy to see how the subject appealed to Kupka, with high ceilings and strong vertical windows and construction. His paintings of the cathedral show the intricate relationship of light and space, as he eliminates the realistic space of the building and instead substitutes the shapes they make. Study in Verticals is simultaneously darkened and illuminated. The light from the stained glass casts its glow over the stone walls and creates a scene where the light dances on every surface. It is somewhat surprising that Kupka did not create works like this one and then develop his purely abstract style, but instead worked in both modes at the same time. What we see from that knowledge and from this painting, is the Kupka revealed the abstract elements of our everyday world. What becomes important in this painting, is not that it is a cathedral, but that light and shapes interact to create great beauty, regardless of the setting or subject.