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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

© 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Czechoslovakian, 1871 - 1957
The Yellow Scale
c. 1907
Oil on canvas

31 x 29 ¼ inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Audrey Jones Beck

Arts of Europe

Although it is provocative to view The Yellow Scale as a self-portrait, the true subject of this riveting work is the color yellow. The intense hues combine with František Kupka’s confident gaze, the book in one hand, cigarette in the other, to convey a strong sense of the artist’s personality.

Kupka was an eccentric, sensual man with a lifelong fascination for spiritualism and the occult. Though he never completely abandoned naturalistic representation, he was one of the pioneers in developing Abstract painting early in the 20th century. Kupka explored philosophically and scientifically the nature of color—its unity and total effect on a work of art. Beginning with one color, Kupka played out its full scale and range, which for him translated into a work with a spiritual quality. "Atmosphere in a painting is achieved through bathing the canvas in a single scale of colors," he said. "Thus one achieves an état d'âme (state of being) exteriorized in luminous form."