Vertical and Diagonal Planes

Artist: František Kupka (Czech, Opočno 1871–1957 Paris)

Date: ca. 1913–14

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 24 1/4 × 19 7/8 in. (61.6 × 50.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Inc., 1971

Accession Number: 1971.111

Rights and Reproduction: © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Born in Bohemia, František Kupka studied in Prague and Vienna and was active in Paris for much of his career, from 1895 until his death in 1957. This geographic diversity was matched by the range of styles that he employed throughout his life, from Symbolism to Expressionism to geometric abstraction. After working as a commercial illustrator for a number of years, Kupka created his first abstract works in 1911, combining his interests in Cubism, Czech folk art, philosophy, and optics. These radical new paintings, in which meaning was meant to be conveyed solely through elements of color and form, were among the first purely nonrepresentational works to be produced by any artist in Europe at the time.

As its title indicates, this painting has an overall vertical composition, enlivened by diagonal elements and a strong sense of pattern and contrast. Kupka seems to allude to perspective through the angled placement of certain shapes, while still insisting on the flatness of the painting's surface through the absence of shading. The multitude of rectilinear geometric forms, mainly parallelograms in saturated colors, interlock in a way that suggests stained glass, textile design, or a folding screen; this effect may be the result of Kupka's association with the Viennese Art Nouveau movement in the first decade of the century. Kupka would go on to experiment with a variety of abstract motifs that often drew inspiration from the transformative processes of nature.