Art: Catching the Astral Plane

To French eyes, Frantisek Kupka was, for the last 20 years of his life, an ir relevance: a withered Czech emigre, with sunken cheeks and a disproportionately large appetite for food, who lived in a small cluttered house in the Paris suburb of Puteaux, surrounded by old abstract paintings that nobody wanted.

His much better-known colleague, the painter Jacques Villon, lived next door.

When collectors and dealers walked by their gate to call on Villon, Kupka and his mountainous wife Eugenie would peer through the shutters at them, too proud to show themselves. The collectors never stopped at the Kupkas'. In the past,...

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