Kupka and The Butter Plate: Religions

Kupka and The Butter Plate: Religions

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Title: Religions

Author : KUPKA Frantisek (1871 - 1957)

Creation date : 1904 -

Date shown: May 7, 1904

Dimensions: Height 57.2 cm - Width 42.8 cm

Technique and other indications: Location: Paris, Musée d'Orsay, kept at the Louvre museum. Final composition intended for the photogravure of the cover of the special issue of "L'Assiette au Beurre": Religions (n ​​° 162, May 7, 1904)

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage (C) ADAGP, Paris

Picture reference: 01-021285 / RF52492-recto

© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage (C) ADAGP, Paris

Publication date: March 2018

Historical context

"Religions", special issue

Launched in 1901, The Butter Plate quickly acquired a certain fame which went far beyond the radical, socialist and anarchist circles of the capital. Characterized by "the search for a certain visual quality highlighting an essentially political content", it quickly became known as "the most artistic of political reviews", which "combines art and satire" (Anne-Marie Bouchard ).

After having produced a first complete issue for The Butter Plate in 1902 (Money, n ° 41), Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957) continued to collaborate frequently with the satirical weekly as an illustrator. The latter, of which we are studying here one of the images Illustration of the special Religions issue of the newspaper L'Assiette au Beurre released on May 7 under the title Religions (No. 162).

Widely present in the social and political debate for more than a century, the anticlerical and antireligious theme knows a formidable rise in the satirical press from the secular reforms of the 1880s. While an energetic policy is launched against the congregations and that the famous law of 1905 on the separation of churches and state is in preparation, Religions is indeed a "special" issue, a sort of obligatory passage for a free thinker journal like The Butter Plate.

Image Analysis

Beyond the caricature.

Illustration of the special Religions issue of the newspaper L'Assiette au Beurre is the cover of the weekly. On the final printed version (this is the composition for the photoengraving), you can also read the date, price and number.

Using black, white (pen, pencil and Indian ink drawing) and yellow (gouache and watercolor) tones, Kupka offers a very elaborate work, the high quality of which goes far beyond that of the innumerable cartoons found in other newspapers. Even the title, whose typography is stylized, blends in perfectly with the composition to match its overall movement.

As for the image itself, it is quite striking, which makes the violence of the stroke coincide with that of the message and shows a priest compressing the head of a dying man to make him spit out his gold. Hands clasped in a position of prayer, the decrepit old man (white hair and wrinkles) seems to be collected. We see him with closed eyes, in an attitude combining suffering, passivity, devotion and an almost inert tranquility. Two hands, protruding from the sleeves of an ecclesiastical costume marked with small crosses, firmly enclose her face: the first is placed largely on the top of her bald head, at the same time comforting, protective and oppressive; the second is placed under his chin, ready to collect the many gold coins which fall abundantly from his mouth.

Enhanced by two hints of color (on the old man's eyelids and next to the title), the fairly brilliant yellow of the pieces highlights them. They appear as the central and structuring element of Illustration of the special Religions issue of the newspaper L'Assiette au Beurre.


A fairly classic load on the bottom

Despite a certain graphic power and great artistic originality, the image develops an anticlerical charge that is ultimately quite "classic". Indeed, it is first of all the Christian religion that is targeted (the crosses on the sleeve of the costume); criticized for money and denounced for its wealth. According to the interpretation which one makes of the image, one can indeed consider that the men of the Church would have for goal only "to make spit" their gold coins to the faithful, or, corollary - if l 'we think that the old man is rather stuffed with these pieces - to maintain a collusion with the powerful by validating an unjust social order.

In any case, religion here seems far removed from its spiritual vocation: gold is central in the image and therefore in the exchange that is supposed to take place between the clergy and men. Far from detaching its flock from greedy preoccupations in order to raise them through the soul, far from advocating poverty, religion would therefore only reproduce the functioning of capitalist and bourgeois society, plagued by the omnipresence of money and the quest profit (here, his own). It would seem thereby to stupefy the faithful (eyes closed, the devotion of the old man) and keep them in a state of submission (the firm hand on the head) both infantile (the hands that pray) and death (the old man is little vigorous).

It should be noted that this eye-catching and eye-catching cover stands out from the rest of the issue Religions, whose content is more unexpected, more varied and perhaps more demanding. Composed (with the exception of a double page on the creation of man) of thirteen illustrated plates which depict a God (the God of the Hindus, the God of Israel, the Japanese Gods, the Turkish God, the Greek Gods , etc.) and are each subtitled with a sometimes quite substantial text, the album broadens the subject to philosophical or historical considerations dear to Kupka (who was very early interested in the spiritualist and theosophy in Prague). If the traditional denunciation of money is indeed present there, for the Russian God and the God of the Vatican in particular, it is coupled with fairly learned and well-documented cultural references which develop other angles of attack against religions ( like their dogmatism, their violence, the hatred of the body or the pain that they involve).

  • religion
  • caricature
  • anticlericalism
  • anarchism
  • satirical press
  • secularism
  • Separation law of 1905
  • Combes (Emile)
  • The Butter Plate


BOUCHARD, Anne-Marie The art market as seen by L’Assiette aueurre: some perspectives opened up by a sidelong glance, University Press of Paris Ouest, 2011.

CHALUPA, Pavel, François Kupka at The Butter Plate, Prague, Chamarré, 2008.

DIXMIER, Elisabeth and Michel, L’Assiette au Beurre: illustrated satirical review, 1901-1912, Paris, François Maspero, 1974.

TENTH, Michel, When the pencil attacks: satirical images and public opinion in France, 1814-1918, Paris, Éditions Autrement, 2007.

HOUTE, Arnaud-Dominique, The triumph of the Republic, 1871-1914 Paris, Seuil, 2014.

REMOND, René, Anticlericalism in France from 1815 to the present day, Paris, Fayard, 1976.

VACHTOVA, Ludmila, Frantisek Kupka, Prague, Odeon, 1967.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Kupka and L’Assiette au Beurre: Religions"

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