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."

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František Kupka, Czech, 1871–1957
The Yellow Scale
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 31 × 29 1/4 in. (78.7 × 74.3 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by Audrey Jones Beck

Current Location
The Audrey Jones Beck Building
Accession Number

Private collection, Vienna, Austria; [Christie's, London, 1994, sale, lot no. 257]; Mrs. Audrey Jones Beck, Houston, 1993; gift to MFAH of Mrs. Audrey Jones Beck, 1992.