The evolution of Charles Darwin in the work of František
On December 13, 1901, Kupka wrote in a letter to the Czech poet Machar: « I've been studying horses for the second week, I'm very interested in this animal now, and I want to send the results to the next salon. The second creature that haunts my head is the antediluvian structure of the possible iconodinno-etc. saurs, and from pithecoides I go to anthropopitheca or pithecanth, and it seems to me that I am lucky enough to give life to all those creatures, and then it seems to me the duty of everyone , who have a knack for finally ridding humanity of its Hebrew upbringing. (You know I'm far from being anti-Semitic). |Image attachment: Anthropoides, 1902|
Those baroque Jehovahs and Adams, these all-possible tyrants of heaven and hell, recognized constantly as necessary factors of the educational element, what about symbols of teaching morals and immorality - You too - listen, master, wouldn't you enjoy it? The whole development of organic creatures is very funny to me and I assure you the whole thing is, once you get beyond the concept of skeletons in museums and see the whole package in detail in front of you, it's all a very funny comedy to me. It's not quite as gray as the fascists often say "in gray prehistoric times".
Kupka devoted himself to the motif of horses as early as the end of the 19th century, when he created the gouache "In the riding stable" (1894 - 1895), which is nevertheless sometimes dated to the time after the above-mentioned letter was written, between the years 1902 - 1905. |Image attachment| There we see horses that trot in a circle, and on their backs sit ladies in poses that were still the only ones accepted for women at the time: two legs are placed on one side, while on the right we recognize a man who is seated in the classical way, each his leg is on one side of the horse. Riders drive their horses into a circle, and in the middle we see a man with a whip indicating movement. In the second plan we see yet another circle of horsemen, perhaps it is more of a movement in spirals. Particularly noteworthy is the horse in the first plan, which turns its head towards the viewer: its gaze is anthropomorphized in such a way that it gives the impression of a self-portrait of the artist.
Kupka used the anthropomorphic motif several times in his work, for example in the lithograph « Vous devies bien nous la foutre », where he placed a crocodile and a tiger, animals traditionally considered aggressive, for the emperors, who set cannons on the pacifist in the first plan (apparently Kupka himself). |Image attachment|
Kupka's fascination with horses is understandable in the context of the late 19th century. In 1887, Eadweard Muybridge published photographs of a horse in motion that overturned the way the trotting horse had been depicted up to that time. Instead of representations of a «flying horse» with four legs above the ground, we find a properly observed «snapshot» of a horse running in the Impressionists, who were inspired by photographs. Kupka's drawing depicting « Riders » (1902 - 1903) is probably inspired by Muybridge's photographs. Perhaps the drawing shows a horse in the following stages of movement rather than multiple horses. |Image attachment|
It is interesting that at the time of the discovery of the movement of the horse's legs, attention was also paid to the evolution from Eohippus to the modern horse (equus caballus) based on fossils. Noting the interest in the horse, Nochlin concludes that there were two timelines: one for a moment, depicting movement, the other for long periods (eons), depicting skeletal development over millions of years, from Eohippus, which died out 40 millions of years ago, to the pliohippus, living 6 million years ago, to the modern horse, domesticated 6000 years ago in Ukraine. |Image attachment|
Stephen Budiansky writes: « Practically everyone who has visited a science museum... has seen the evolutionary sequence of fossil horses from tiny eohippus... to modern Equus. Starting as a small, squat, dog-sized, four-toed creature 55 million years ago, the horse turned step-by-step into the tall, fleet, elegant, single-hoofed animal of modernity. »1
Fossils of horses in the 19th century depicted development in an orthogenic way, from the smallest and least developed creature to the modern horse, which in its perfection exceeds all its predecessors.
Social Darwinists, who believed in the superiority of one human race, logically found a comparison between the primitive species of horse and the Arabian horse, which was considered the most noble. Social structure could be understood as the equivalent of horse breeding. The categorization of horses resembled the human arrangement: elegant Arabian horses were associated with the aristocracy, while draft horses were compared with the working classes. The pony was a metaphor for the wild tribes. Kupka's interest in different types of horses (and also dogs) is documented in an illustration he made for the magazine «Dekorative Vorbilder» (1904). |Image attachment|
In the composition « Woman on a horse », Kupka depicted a blonde woman sitting on a beautiful Arabian horse. The light atmosphere of the composition is anchored in the northern light and is reminiscent of white nights. Holding her long golden hair, the ethereal being is almost goddess-like in beauty. Both creatures expose themselves to the last rays of the sun and draw life-giving energy. It seems to us as if they were contemplating their primordial beginnings on the shore of the sea.
Kupka's emblematic painting with the subject of horses is called "Ballad of Joy, Epona". Kupka depicted a Percheron on which a naked blonde girl and a small pony are sitting. A brunette is kneeling on his back, holding a mane in her hands. Her monkey pose is reminiscent of a less evolved and wild being. The pony was considered the equivalent of primitive human races. It resembles a small eohippus, the forerunner of the modern, perfectly developed horse. While the pony is anthropomorphized in his facial expression that resembles laughter, the woman on his back seems to be swept along by some kind of atavistic movement. |Image attachment|
The Percheron and the beautiful blonde on his back are depicted as beings who have achieved a certain perfection in the course of evolution, which is expressed in the conscious expression of the horse and in the gesture of the woman who raises her blonde hair and creates a kind of halo, symbolizing the self-awareness that is only human kinds. The evolutionist nature of the painting is also hinted at by the preparatory sketch, which depicts a monkey touching the horse's head with its hand and whispering something in its ear. (1901, Museum in Bochum).
This study is in relation to other works of animal themes by Kupka, in which we see anthropomorphized monkeys, for example in the drawing « Peacock » (1900 - 1904). It could be an allusion to the work of Edgar Allan Poe or Oscar Wilde. It is a watercolor in the form of a triptych, on the left we see a temple with a statue in the middle, and in the first plan swans swim on a body of water. In the center, a peacock is shown sitting on a branch. Monkeys play with his lips. Below, Kupka depicted water lilies, a favorite flower of artists at the turn of the century. In the right part, we recognize a heron, at whose feet ducks with blue heads and brown feathers are depicted.
However, the evolution did not end for Kupka. In a letter to Machar, Kupka elaborates on the possible existence of a higher being who, from an evolutionary point of view, would surpass man: « Gaby is currently wrapping the cat's head in her old veil, the cat can go crazy, it is constantly backing away and cannot explain the fog in front of its eyes. So I wonder if there are any beings - (actually if they were) - more intelligent than us and which we don't understand, who can make fools of us like this. I also have a talking duck - what must the animal think when I take the cage and carry it - these thick beaks are usually quite intelligent; I often calculated similarly when I still had an aquarium that I also transferred their whole world to the fish. »2
In the same letter, Kupka also negates the romantic concept of love in order to replace it with a completely biological idea, when he writes: « Besides, you know, when I sometimes go to a workshop where experiments are conducted with electricity, you know the new "cold" light of its color, or these whole the combination of Crooes pipes, it's so tempting, every time I get angry at the imagination and sentimental sphinxes that I used to draw so much, I know that I never drew them out of conviction, I was more attracted by the form, it's pretty but as empty as pretty women eyes in which, after all, I could never find what you - you poets - still see. I think that what you want to describe, what is to be found in those eyes - you are only indirectly expressing your mental but rather physical state - namely that you feel the closeness of the body and the more this heat vibrates, the more it affects you. And then in general, - I don't even remember if we talked about gender relations, what about what you poets have already sung so much about "love". I never wanted to believe in this stuff either, and I messed up a lot with it. The easiest way I always ended my research was by saying to myself that all the exponents of these things were consciously or unconsciously moralists who drove the beautiful or even stupid simple processes of nature under hypocritical curtains. After all, often when I was still in Prague I walked past yellow or red forhaňk, do you know which ones?, I had a kind of feeling of satisfaction of justice, the names of all apologists for "love" should be written or nicely embroidered on those curtains. Besides, I get terribly angry every time I read or talk about love at all. Only unjust egoists know this, as long as there is "love" - there will also be hatred. »
Kupka in 1901 considers man to be a monstrous being. He leaves behind the fascination he had for peasant women in his youth when he painted their costumes around Domažlice. In a letter to Machar, which is dated September 3, 1901, and which was written in Subcarpathian Rus, we find a completely different approach: "Actually, I don't know, but it seems to me that you are not a great friend of the peasant either, at least I did not read in your spirit nowhere much enthusiasm for this rude sort of people. Here they still wear the picturesque Slovak costume, but I am no longer interested in it, if I were to draw these people today, I would only draw stupid beastly creatures - they have no meaning for me. I recognized that the Danish, Norwegian, or Breton peasant is such a characterless monster as the Slavic peasant. I remember that some 10 years ago in Moravia I was dancing and as I was going out the door, one of the peasants hit me on the head with a stick and ran away; I ran after him and he shouted at me: "What do you have to dance with my wife." Explaining to him that I dance with everyone without distinction, I agreed with him, but let me pay for a liter of wine; then we were brothers and he himself wanted me to hug his wife, etc. I experienced endless stories like that. No, if I'm doing studies here, I won't make any shots there, - here it could only be a peasant, and why burn such a characterless monster into a nice landscape. Rather, the black duck of a priest, an animal or anything else but not a peasant or a peasant. Maybe I will draw them, but not as it has been painted so far. After all, the land in this place is not very populated - there are only villages in the valleys, and only in the wide valleys, besides the grasshoppers in the grass, there are very few living creatures, the beauty itself is the desolate nature, only here and there you can hear cow bells. »
In the second half of the 19th century, the small monkey became a popular pet, which was associated with numerous expeditions to tropical regions where monkeys were domesticated animals. For example, in Paul Gauguin's painting « Aita tamari vahine Judith te parari » (1893 - 1894) a small chimpanzee sits at the model's feet. We also see the little monkey in Georges Seurat's famous divisionist painting «Afternoon on the island of Grande Jatte». |Image attachment|
In Camille Alaphilippe's sculpture « Woman with a monkey » (1908) we see a turn in relation to this animal in the period that followed the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. While in the Middle Ages the monkey symbolized evil and was a hellish grimace of human beauty, after the spread of Darwinist theories, it began to be perceived as a cute and beloved creature that reminds of humanity's childhood. In the work by Alaphilippe, it is also very likely that the motif also contains a sexual subtext: the monkey that the woman is holding by the collar could symbolize a potential suitor whom the lady has conquered with her beauty. We have the impression that maternal feelings are awakening in the woman's face: we see an expression full of tenderness and a gentle smile. |Image attachment|
In his letters to Machar, Kupka also mentions his cohabitation with monkeys in Montmartre. A letter dated February 18, 1904 testifies to Kupko's close emotional relationship with his pets, which included chimpanzees. Kupka writes: « I kept the cat and the magpie, I sold the dog to a person who can lead it outside better than I, I gave the other birds to a pretty Jenny l'ouvrière ... The chimpanzees, which were almost like mine, hatched in January 3 years ago -4 Sundays, several days in a row, I'm only left with pythecanthropes on the canvas I'm working on. »
On January 26, 1902, Kupka writes that «Pithecanthropes and the like continues more freely because I am looking for studies for it. I am terribly tedious with the preparations for the work, - after all, I will confess to you quite honestly that I enjoy these preparations the most - the execution - I would prefer to have the janitor do it. » On January 2, 1902, in a letter from Kupka to Machar we read: « Yesterday I wrote a long piece of writing which I took out of my "perverse" drawer and wrote about the preservation of the form and way of life in animals and about the born (narrow, crossed out) thin chest of Parisian women who at all they don't need laces anymore, about the long toe on the feet of ancient Greek statues comparing the long toe of a pythecanthrope from Ceylon with the short toe of an orangutan or gorilla, about tobacco, the caffeine of alcohol, and a rapturous hymn about the effects of absinthe, which I myself only drink when I need to gather all the strength to overlook my situation - the wretch who receives the letter, if he listens to me, will have to be the biggest eccentric in Austria, especially since I added to him that the position of the hermaphrodite today, as always, had something far more noble, more superhuman than the usual mating of two attractive elements, etc. » In in the same letter we read: « I was again looking for the gaiety of my first days in Paris, but having made the acquaintance of the former dancer "la goula" from the Moulin Rouge at the the apes, where she, - (again, a strange woman, was a tamer of lions. Monkeys have interested me for a long time and now I resorted to these wide mouths and big buckles, because the craft of costume drawing required a mod style, small mouths, small hands, etc. »
At the same time, Kupka drew « Progress in painting » (1898), in which we see a type of nude female model with a wasp waist. She holds a palette in her left hand while petting a chimpanzee with her right hand. Another chimpanzee sits on the right and scratches his head, symbolizing his « wisdom ».
It is remarkable how Kupka depicted the monkey's right leg: we see a finger that is visibly separated from the others in such a way that it resembles a human hand. |Image attachment|
The separation of the finger that allowed primates to grasp work tools was probably at the beginning of the evolution of human thought. In the background of the pictorial composition, we recognize a chameleon, which is drawn in white chalk with fine strokes that make the protagonists of the first plan stand out. It is evident that Kupka wanted to express a kind of competition between the aesthetics of nature and art in his very original drawing. The chameleon is a reptile that is known for its ability to change the colors of its skin to better adapt to its surroundings and to hide from possible predators: it is to confuse the enemy.
In this context, it is necessary to recall the first legends about the beginning of painting, recorded by Pliny the Elder. They are also based on deception, but it is a contest between two painters, Zeuxis and Parhassios: while one succeeds in attracting birds with his painting, the other painter directly deceives his mate by painting a curtain on a still life with fruit, which Zeuxis tries to push aside in the belief, that it is a real piece of fabric. The « trompe-l'oeil » motif is a visual play that has been at the very foundation of the Western pictorial tradition since Late Antiquity at the latest. In her drawing, Kupka evokes the fact that we find similar mechanisms in nature itself, in chameleons.
By depicting a girl with a painted face, highlighted lips and eyebrows, holding a palette in her hand, Kupka wanted to suggest an allegory between the fine arts and the adornment of women's own bodies with pigments in order to attract males. According to contemporary theories, the aesthetic sense developed in females in very ancient times, when they began to paint their own bodies to make themselves more attractive. At the same time, hair began to disappear: for this reason, the woman is depicted with completely bare skin. The chimpanzees sitting next to her are very hairy in contrast. In Darwin's view, the loss of hair was a sign of sexual selection in order to better see the colors of the skin, which could change color, a bit like the chameleon shown in the back plan of the drawing.
The motif of monkeys was very common at the time when Kupka lived in Montmartre. As we know from extant correspondence to Machar, monkeys were Kupka's pets. There is even a drawing where the artist himself is depicted together with the monkeys that climb in his studio. Monkeys were also protagonists in cabarets, and Kupka may have depicted a memory from a theatrical performance in the drawing « Truth IV » (1900), where on the left we see a blonde naked woman who exposes her body and walks on stage towards a small primate who is so ambivalent, that it resembles a cross between a man and an ape. The hat, gesture and face are very human, while the long arms and body are more chimpanzee-like. In the background we see a crowd of spectators, which is very monstrous: the faces also evoke allegories of sins.
The beauty of the naked woman, symbolizing truth, is shown in juxtaposition with ugliness, symbolizing lies. This opposition completely fits into the tradition of iconography of European painting. The monkey here also plays a role that has been typical for centuries and precedes the Darwinian turn: we could interpret it as a representation of the Lie, which is placed on the balustrade in contrast to the purity of the Truth. The use of the motif of a monkey, symbolizing the devil and evil, which is traditional, is not very common in Kupko's work, as he dealt with Darwinist theories and therefore had family relations with monkeys.
However, we could also find an allusion to Darwinist theories in the drawing: the straight pose of the woman is the opposite of the bent position of the monkey, which has to lean on the ground with its hand in order not to fall. The woman's hands are free to move with the veil. Here we find another direct proof that Kupka knew Darwin's theories very well. Darwin believed that the verticality of the human figure is an expression of consciousness, because the hands were freed for work,3 which we find depicted very explicitly in Kupko's drawing.
In the cover for the magazine « L'Assiette au Beurre », illustrating « Liberty » (1906), a naked female allegorical figure is shown standing upright, holding her head in her hands. He shows how he can freely manipulate his hands and manifests his ability to think intelligently. The erotic motif of a woman with red lips standing on a table and framing her head with her hands is the subject of the painting « Bomba » (1902 - 1904). The verticality of her pose and the free movement of her hands could also be read in a Darwinian spirit as an allusion to the power of seduction of men that women have acquired in the course of evolution. The hand gestures embody the mental capacity of the prostitute, who possesses a manipulative intelligence unique to our species. According to Darwin, humans' lack of physical strength for self-protection is compensated by intelligence, which allows us to manipulate opponents to our advantage.
Looking at the painting « Bomba » reminds us of Emil Zola's « Nana », who also had a great talent for manipulating men, and the painting could be read as a reminiscence of this protagonist of Zola's famous naturalistic novel. |Image attachment|
It is noteworthy that « Bomba » is shown standing, in a very vertical pose, which clearly separates her from the figures that are shown below, which are sketched by the painter with very chaotic brush strokes. It is likely that Kupka wanted to evoke the manipulative ability of the prostitute who towers over the crowd below, probably in a state of intoxication, which is a sign of a decline into a lower stage of evolution, when the ability to think degrades and man becomes a «beast».
« Peace » (1900) is a very funny cartoon. There we see a clown smoking a cigarette and holding a stage curtain. In the second plan, we recognize a cannon surrounded by « blue monkeys ». At the very top, a monkey with angel wings holds a branch of laurel with the inscription "Peace" in its hand. Another monkey with a paper cap sits on top of the cannon. A little lower we see a monkey holding a pistol in his hand and raising it high. Next to the cannon sits another monkey with a rifle. The cannon is placed on a sled pulled by several monkeys.
It is interesting how Kupka was able to distinguish different types of monkeys that can be identified with certainty: a small orangutan is standing at the top, a chimpanzee is sitting on a cannon, and we also recognize a macaque. In the lower right corner, we can see a large gorilla carrying a cannon on his shoulders. Kupka portrayed the absurdity of war and a moral allegory in an entertaining and at the same time brilliant way, which well shows the « wisdom » of monkeys, which surpasses human behavior.
The opposite of the composition « Peace » is the drawing « Fools » (1899): on it we see a crowd of patriots, priests and academics, who are preparing for war, armed with a cannon. However, in this case, the cannon is not just an innocent toy, as in the "Peace" drawing, but has a menacing impression and is completely ready to kill. Only the clowns on the edge of the stage left and right retained their rationality. |Image attachment|
One of Kupka's most famous drawings with the subject of « wise monkeys » is called « Ecce Homo » (1900). On it we see a chimpanzee drawing Adam and Eve in paradise on a piece of paper in traditional iconography: Eve is holding an apple and we can see a snake on a tree trunk. On the left, a smiling woman with the paws of a lion watches the performance of the monkey artist. Instead of a headband, she has a cobra in her hair. |Image attachment|
The drawings for « Cocorico » also contain amusing motifs of the meeting of the animal and human kingdoms: on the cover of the journal we recognize a woman eating an egg, who turns in alarm to a family of hens with small chicks. The rooster looks at the woman with reproach and with his expression asks us the question: is it fair?
Another cover for Cocorico, illustrated by Kupka, presents us with a chimpanzee holding court: a scientist shows him a statue of a sphinx, which symbolizes wisdom, while a rich man brings him a cake. The monkey points his finger at the sphinx, preferring wisdom over culinary delights.
The mockery of honours, medals and awards is the subject of the drawing « Orbis Pictus » (1901), whose title refers to the famous encyclopedia of the Moravian philosopher of the Baroque period, Jan Amos Comenius.
We see a monkey standing on a chair throwing medals to a crowd of pigs who are decorated with medals and looking very noble. In the background, we see the milky way and the full moon, which enliven the black sky. The scene is completed by two girls laughing. On the moon, Kupka depicted a railway, which humorously refers to the period's fascination with extraterrestrials. |Image attachment|
The motif of the pig, which is decorated with a crown and walks to the vacant throne in the circus, is also found in the lithograph « Ascension to the Throne ». Next to the throne we can see two monkeys, an orangutan and a chimpanzee, who are waiting for the arrival of the pig. In the lower right, Kupka depicted a crowd that, with its wild and stupid behavior, resembles animals far more than the protagonists on the left, who are bearers of royal power.
Another cartoon that deals with the theme of role reversal, between the animal and human worlds, is called « Animal Christmas » (1900) and depicts a Christian theme, the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus in her arms, but instead of shepherds, a group of animals is adoring: a chimpanzee is holding guinea pigs and a rooster sits on his shoulders. To the right is a goat, a little lower a hare and a snail. We see cats in the middle and a doe on the bottom left. At the very top, above the small child's hands, a fish appears. It seems that Kupka wanted to ridicule the church, as his thinking was strongly anti-clerical. It is probably no coincidence that the halo shines on the newborn and the fish: it could be an allusion to the fraudulent practices of Catholic dogma, which confuses the animals around with its warm glow in the middle of the night.
A very complex testimony of popular culture is the cartoon: « Life in pink: what it would be for me if I were a king and had a lot of money! » From our point of view, the dinosaur skeleton that we find in the upper left corner is particularly interesting. It is apparently a circus attraction, but it was inspired by contemporary galleries of comparative anatomy. It is important to realize the fascination with fossils of large « antediluvian » animals that Kupka talks about in his letters to Machar.
The great gallery of comparative anatomy still visible today in the Paris Botanical Garden is evidence of the enormous scientific interest in skeletons, and popular culture naturally took inspiration from new scientific discoveries to find new motifs for its imagination. Other animal motifs, a black cat that sits on an altar dedicated to «Steinlen», a dog and a monkey that holds a mirror to a man in which he observes himself, are very widespread in Kupko's motif index of the period.
A man looking at his future in a mirror held by a monkey is a motif referring to the beginnings of our species. For the monkey was considered a kind of imprint of our own face that we see in the mirror of time. The monument to Willett, which was constituted by a pedestal on which stands the artist's statue in a victorious pose, decorated with a little girl, could also be read through a Darwinian prism.
A biological reading is even more appropriate in the case of the drawing « The Sacrifice ». On the right we see a portrait of a woman. On the left we can see a crowd of animals, two camels, pigs, and from below a small man is climbing up the frame, who is not very elegant and resembles a drunkard. At the very bottom we read the inscription, which is actually the commentary of a woman who looks at us with reproach in her face and says « Say that I was born to satisfy all these animals » (« Dire que j'ai été créée et mise au monde pour la satisfaction de tous ces animaux »).
Man is thus integrated into the animal kingdom and deprived of his exclusive role, from which he has profited for centuries. The sexual motif is also the subject of the drawing « The sin of hypocrite scandalizes beauty » (« Le vice hypocrite scandalisé par la beauté »), in which we see a crowd of prostitutes dancing in seductive poses. The drawing is accompanied by a quote from Baudelaire: « Love and gaiety scare only the wicked » (« L'amour et la gaité ne font peur qu'aux méchants »). These motifs are related to the caricature « This Kills That » (« Ceci tue cela »), which depicts a painter meditating next to a white canvas. In the background we see a pictorial composition with naked girls riding pigs. On the left, a naked model is posing, whose veil has fallen, and we have the impression that it could also be a prostitute. The pallet lies on the ground. At the very bottom we read the inscription: « What are you waiting for to work? After all, you have your subject in yourself! » (« Qu'attends-tu donc pour travailler? Tu possesdes cependant ton sujet à fond! »).
The idea of pictorial composition is a comparison between artistic creation and the reproductive instinct of humans. The joke is in relation to Kupka's paper « Myslitel », in which a seductive blonde leans towards a man who is immersed in his own thoughts. At the bottom we find the inscription: « Useless beings, do not disturb me, let me develop my thoughts in peace. - Of course, my little one, everyone develops what they have, isn't that true? » (« Ne me trouble point, futile creature, laisse en paix se développer ma pensée. - Bien sûr, mon petit père, on développe c'qu'on peut, s'pas. »)
Seduction and sexual behavior, which is interpreted through the eyes of animals, is also the subject of the drawing with a play on words: « I think she lacks a line. - Yes, fishermen! - Hey, fish! » (« Moi, je trouve qu'elle manque de ligne. - Oui, elle pèche à la ligne ! - Va donc, hé, poisson! »). Two men, a gentleman and a sailor, observe a seductive woman whose costume is drawn below to resemble a fin.
The drawing « The Nightmare of a Moralist » (« Le cauchemar d'un moraliste ») deals in an amusing way with the repressed desires of the unconscious dream: a man, sleeping, is visited in his dream by a naked cuckoo and other women with big feathers make long noses at him. The scene is accompanied by an organic octopus-shaped frame with a female face kissing a male face.
References to biological discoveries are even present in the drawings for the popular entertainment magazine « L'Assiette au beurre », which deals with the theme of religion: for example, in « The Creation of Man » (« La création de l'homme ») we see Prometheus on the left sculpting the first humans from the earth and the goddess Athena watches his actions with a pensive expression. On the right, God removes a rib from Adam's body to create Eve. A snail and a frog complete the scene. At the very top, we see a triumphant theory: chimpanzees, sitting in the branches of a tree, observe with a wise expression the « fairy tales » unfolding below them. |Image attachment|
The anti-clerical worldview and simultaneous fascination with the natural sciences is readable in the drawing for « Le Canard Sauvage », which depicts a priest lying on a mattress full of treasures, money and jewels, which he clutches convulsively in his hands. His expression is full of anxiety. In the background, Kupka depicted the starry sky and the Milky Way, which is an allusion to the astronomical explorations of the universe, which experienced a great flourishing in the second half of the 19th century. In the lower part of the composition we find a very funny inscription: « Where is the sky that I sold so well? » (« Où est le ciel, que je vendais si bien? »).
In such a way, Kupka brilliantly expressed the ambiguity of modern man, who at the end of the century was deprived of his old conceptions of the world by revolutionary scientific revolutions. One could say that Kupka stands up for positivists and completely rejects religion. In the case of caricatures of priests for magazines, the atheist approach is quite evident. However, as we will see in the large pictorial compositions that Kupka created a few years later, spirituality also found its place in the artist's mind. It is also interesting how Kupka illustrated the reaction of the priests to the statue of Renan, the famous atheist interpreter of the Gospels: the Jesuit sends a bandit with a scythe at him. The raised jaws of the aggressor are very noticeable and remind us of the finds of prehistoric Neanderthal fossils, which Kupka scientifically illustrated.
The bandit's very long left arm resembles a monkey. The priest, by his own actions, negates his theory of the superiority of humans over animals and the divine origin of the human race, because he wants to defend it with the violence of a being who carries within himself a trace of his bestial beginnings.
In the drawing « Progress. How intelligent are these weapons! » (« Le progrès. Comment sont ces armes intélligents! ») (1905) we see an anthropoid holding a club in his hand and scratching his forehead. He looks at the large cannon and at the diagrams showing the firing. In the background we see illustrations of historical weapons. The anthropoid is racking his brain, thinking about the complex mechanisms of the modern weapons he sees in the picture in front of him.
The caricature « A Malato » is a variation on the theme of the allegory of truth, depicted as a naked woman walking on the street and offending hypocrites. From our point of view, the nudity in Kupka's caricatures is also interesting as proof of the artist's interest in the nudist movement, which flourished in the second half of the 19th century. We know that Kupka liked to exercise naked in the garden and expose himself to the life-giving rays of the sun, but probably only in the garden of his house in Puteaux.
|Image attachment: the first scientific illustration of Anthropoid created by František Kupka|
1Stephen Budiansky, The Nature of Horses, (New York, The Free Press, 1997), p. 16.
2 A small drawing of a woman artist sewing, with a cat purring in the background, has been preserved in the House of Arts in Ostrava. This is apparently a semantic and visual play on words, which was very common in Kupko's work of this period, as the same verb is used for the activity depicted in the Czech drawing - preposition. So Kupka gives us a beautiful example of the sociomorphic transposition of human activities into the animal kingdom.