Kupka’s Shape of Blue sets new Czech art auction record

Tvar modré, foto: ČTK

On Wednesday night, The Shape of Blue, a painting by abstract artist František Kupka, sold for 55.75 million crowns at auction – setting a new Czech art auction record. The impressive final sum came as a surprise even to the director of Adolf Loos Aprtment & Gallery, which organized the auction. What significance does this latest record have for the domestic art market, and what makes this work of Kupka’s special? We spoke to Jan Skřivánek, the editor-in-chief of art + antiques.

'The Shape of Blue', photo: CTK
“It is one of the earliest examples of abstract painting, because the very first abstract painting was exhibited in 1912 and that was Kupka’s Amorpha, which is now on display at Prague’s National Gallery. And he started painting the Shape of Blue in 1913, so it is a really early example of abstract art and in the past ten years, a comparable picture has not been on the market.”

So that could be one of the reasons why it broke the Czech art auction record, selling for 55.75 million Czech crowns. What significance does this record have?

“For the Czech market, it means that this new record is almost double of the previous one, which was also held by a Kupka painting. But he also is really the only Czech artist who is internationally known and in the collections of all the major international art museums, and that makes him interesting for foreign buyers as well and this buyer was supposedly a Russian collector. But if we look at the price of this painting in pounds, it actually isn’t that high. It is high for Kupka but not if you compare it to other painters of his generation.”

Jan Skřivánek, photo: Matěj Pálka
As you mentioned, the previous record was also held by a Kupka painting. Are there many more of his paintings on the market that may go on sale?

“No, that may also be a problem and why his artwork does not sell for prices that would be comparable to those other artists’ work goes for, such as Kandinsky’s or Mondrian’s, because he painted only about 280 abstract paintings and most of them are in public collections, so there are not that many abstract paintings by him that could appear on the market.”

Lastly, how has the Czech art market taken to the global financial crisis? Has it been affected at all or remained more or less unfazed by global financial problems?

“The Czech art market was not really hit by it. At the beginning of the first economical crisis in late 2008 and early 2009, the domestic market actually reached record highs. New investors came to the market and they were looking for a safe way to deposit their funds. They began collecting and buying Czech art. And in 2010 and 2011, the annual turnover was still something like 670 million crowns, so it is really quite solid. If the crisis affected the Czech art market, then in the lower segment, paintings and artwork priced at between 50,000 and 100,000 crowns. Collectors who previously used to buy such works are now more cautious, but in the top segment, the market wasn’t hit at all.”