FRANTIŠEK KUPKA CZECH 1871-1957 DIVERTIMENTO II signed Kupka lower right; titled on a label on the reverse oil on canvas 59 by 91.5cm., 23¼ by 35¾in.
Prague, Galerie S.V.U. Mánes, František Kupka, 1946, no. 149 (as Divertissement II)
New York, Rose Fried Gallery, Kupka, 1953, no. 4 (as Divertissement II, 1935)
New York, Galerie Chalette; Cinncinnati, Contemporary Arts Center; Chicago, Arts Club of Chicago; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Construction and Geometry in Painting; from Malevich to 'Tomorrow', 1960-61, no. 4
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, The Classic Spirit in the 20th Century, 1964, no. 9
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, František Kupka, 1851-1957, A Retrospective, 1975-76, no. 181, illustrated in the catalogue
Jiří Hlušička, The Hascoe Collection of Czech Modern Art, Prague, 2004, p. 26, mentioned; p. 193, no. P46, catalogued; p. 175, pl. 161, illustrated
Mr. and Mrs. Georges E. Seligmann (acquired from the artist in 1955)
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 12 May 1999, lot 358
Purchased at the above sale
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Painted in 1935, Divertimento II is an expression of Kupka's love of music which he had explored in his art as early as 1909 in works such as Piano Keys: The Lake (Prague, National Gallery), and explores the inner analogy between art and the music. The title of the work, literally 'amusement', refers to a type of light-hearted musical entertainment popularised in the eighteenth century and played at social functions and events, and indeed the painting is an almost mesmeric rhythm of shapes, colours, and what could be read as dancing figures.
But despite its ornamental qualities, Divertimento II also contains more ominous philosophical elements, turning the very meaning of 'amusement' on its head. On closer reflection, the dancers become automaton workers toiling in a futuristic factory, their limbs extensions of the cogs and levers they operate. The rhythm is that of repetitive work of the machine age. Human beings are no more than drones dancing to the hum of rotating discs and axles that are the war machine.
On a deeper level, Divertimento II reflects the scientific basis for so much of Kupka's work. The composition has the qualities of a microscope slide seen at high magnification and showing the very building blocks of the material world, like some of the works of Kupka's contemporary, Wassily Kandinsky (fig. 1). In this light, the discs can be read as cells, interconnected by the threads of matter itself, underlining the fundamentally conceptual nature of Kupka's aesthetic.
Fig. 1: Wassily Kandinsky, Fixed Flight, 1932, Adrian Maeght Collection, Paris © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2011