(b Opočno, Bohemia, 22 Sept. 1871; d Puteaux, Paris, 24 June 1957). Czech painter and graphic artist, active mainly in France, a pioneer of abstract art. He studied in Prague and Vienna, and settled in Paris in 1895/6, working first mainly as a satirical draughtsman and book illustrator; his paintings of the time were influenced by Symbolism and then Fauvism. From an early age he had been interested in the supernatural (later in Theosophy), and from this grew a concern with the spiritual symbolism of colour.
It became his ambition to create paintings whose colours and rhythms would produce effects similar to those of music, and in his letters he sometimes signed himself ‘colour symphonist’. From 1909 (inspired by high-speed photography) he also experimented—in a manner similar to that of the Futurists—with ways of showing motion. By 1912 his ‘explorations of the rhythmic and harmonic properties of line, shape, and colour’ had led to complete abstraction in Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colours (NG, Prague), which was exhibited that year at the Salon d'Automne; ‘if, as seems probable, it had been begun in 1911, it must rank as one of the earliest intentionally non-representational paintings in Western art’ (George Heard Hamilton, Painting and Sculpture in Europe: 1880–1940, 1967). As with Delaunay and the Orphists, to whom his work is closely related, Kupka excelled at this stage in his career in the creation of lyrical colour effects. At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered for military service: he fought on the Somme and he also did a good deal of propaganda work such as designing posters. After the war the Prague Academy appointed him a professor in Paris with the brief of introducing Czech students there to French culture. In 1931 he was one of the founder members of the Abstraction-Création group. His later work was in a more geometrical abstract style. Although Kupka gradually established a considerable reputation, his pioneering role in abstraction was not generally realized until after his death.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)