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Published 06/09/2011 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Abstraction and Atonality

Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, and Arnold Schönberg
Museum Kampa, Prague
12 May–31 July 2011 (extended to 31 August 2011)


František Kupka (1871–1957) is generally recognised to be the best-known Czech artist from the 20th century, and Museum Kampa in Prague is proud to house one of the largest private collections of his work. It is not surprising, therefore, that their recent exhibition – successful enough to be extended by a month – focused largely on his story, with Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) as peripheral figures. This did not, however, detract from the show, for which the driving concept was an examination of the relationship between abstraction and atonality, or patterns of music and visual composition.

“Kupka wants painting to sounds like music,” said Czech poet Richard Weiner, after visiting his friend in Paris in 1912, and, indeed, this was the underlying hope of the artist, whose search for “beautiful forms” led him from the Central European Symbolism of his native Bohemia, to Paris at the turn of the century, where he was inspired by the “vertiginous musicality” of the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals. Believing, like Gauguin, that an artist had to be a revolutionary in order not to become a plagiarist, Kupka cast aside any form of painting with which he had tried to express his feelings symbolically, and began to work with his series of Circulars and Verticals, and, later, Lines, Planes and Spaces. This progression is documented clearly, and the inclusion of comparable works by Kandinsky (along with some less critically praiseworthy portraits by mutual friend and composer Schönberg), relates the Czech’s works to what was going on around him at the time.

In 1913, Kupka proclaimed: “I am still groping in the dark, but I believe I can find something between sight and hearing and I can produce a fugue in colours as Bach has done in music.” By the end of this short journey through his career development, one certainly appreciates the achievements he made in pursuit of this goal.


František Kupka from the Jan and Meda Mladek Collection, published by Museum Kampa, 2007.

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