Hilma Af Klint, born in Karlberg Palace, Sweden on October 26, 1862, was a well-known Swedish artist. She is now commemorated all over the globe.
Hilma Af Klint was born in Stockholm and attended the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where she graduated with honors in 1887. In Stockholm, she identified herself as a highly regarded artist, displaying figurative paintings and momentarily serving as secretary of the Association of Swedish Women Artists.
Hilma Af Klint had become engaged in spiritualism at a young age. Later, he became fascinated with the concepts of Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Anthroposophy. These methods of divine interaction were popular throughout Europe, particularly in artistic and literary circles, as people sought to resolve religious beliefs with advances in science and a growing understanding of religious plurality.
Af Klint’s conventional art view of abstract work predates the preliminary drawings of modern art and became a source of revenue, but her “great work,” completed during her lifetime, managed to remain a solitary process.
Only spiritually inclined audience members were aware of this collection of her works. Her efforts to show these works of art to like-minded people were ultimately ineffective, and notes in her notepads indicate that she believed that the world wasn’t yet prepared for the message it wanted to convey.
At the Academy of Fine Arts, Af Klint met Anna Cassel, one of four women who formed a group called The Five with three other peers to investigate the spirit world, which included experimental automatic drawing.
The five was a collective that explored divine worlds through mindfulness and séances.
Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman, and Mathilda Nilsson were also participants of the Edelweiss Society, a Stockholm organization that combined Christian ideas, theology teachings, and mysticism. Between 1896 and 1908, The Five documented messages from higher spirits known as The High Masters who were invisible forces.
In a trance, the group believed they could interact with mystic beings known as Amaliel, Ananda, and Gregor, who were thought to be mediators for The High Masters, and decipher their messages through automatic drawing and writing.
In 1907, Hilma Af Klint discovered that she had been given a message implying that she was to be the group’s leader. The other four refused to comply with the new regime, and the group soon dissolved and stopped working together. From this point forward, Af Klint concentrated wholly on her most essential body of work, The Paintings for the Temple.
The Paintings for the Temple
The Paintings for the Temple eventually grew to 193 works in various series, which Af Klint ended up working on from 1906 to 1915.
Af Klint, the Swedish artist, was given a commission by a member of the High Masters in 1906. These abstract works of art would become recognized as Paintings for the Temple, despite the fact that she had no idea what the Temple meant exactly.
It was one of the first-ever bits of abstract work of art in the Modern aesthetic, predating through several years her contemporaries’ non-figurative configurations in Europe.
The conventional Painting for the Temple was created in two stages between 1906 and 1915, with a break between 1908 and 1912. There were 193 paintings in the series, which were divided into many series and subseries.
“I had no idea exactly what they were destined to depict…,” she said, explaining that the images were adorned “through” her with “force” – a divine dictation. I worked quickly and steadily, not shifting a single brush stroke.
The Paintings for the Temple, which date from 1907, are enormous in size. Each artwork in the series, aptly titled The Ten Largest, measures approximately 240 cm x 320 cm and depicts various stages of one’s life, from early childhood to senescence. Her paintings frequently depict symmetrical duality, and her color choices should be interpreted metaphorically.
After the entire series was finished in 1915, Af Klint asserted she no longer received instruction from the High Masters. Regardless of the outside influences, she continued to paint abstractly.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), ahead of the Theosophical motion, was invited to view Af Klint’s work in 1908. His remarks were depressing. He also declined to be her professor, claiming she had discovered one within the divinities. While some have speculated that this meeting prompted Af Klint to assert greater authorship over her work, such a shift was common among women who achieved recognition as mediums.
Once female mediums gained some regard, they began to advocate more for themselves rather than only for spirits. After 1912, Af Klint’s work appeared to shift aesthetics away from techniques associated with soul channeling, for instance, the fluid lines of The Five’s automatic drawings.
Hilma Af Klint and her conventional paintings
Stockholm was visited by the leaders of numerous divine movements all around the turn of the twentieth century. Af Klint took classes by the theosophists Annie Besant and Rudolf Steiner, and her library included Madame Blavatsky’s key theosophical writings as well as a huge number of Steiner’s works.
She later became a member of the Anthroposophical Society, which was established in 1913. In the 1920s, she spent prolonged periods in Dornach, Switzerland, where Steiner had formed the Goetheanum, the movement’s headquarters.
Numerous Af Klint’s conventional paintings were displayed in several expositions during her lifetime. Her non-figurative writings, on the other hand, were only displayed in anthroposophical and theosophical settings. It took many years after her death for her art to receive significant attention.
Her works were included in the survey exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1986. Ever since the attraction to her esoteric works of art has grown, and her work is now regularly displayed in major museums around the world.
One of the most popular exhibitions in the museum’s history in the autumn of 2018 was The Hilma Af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Paintings 1890-1985 exhibition at LACMA in Los Angeles in 1986 signified the start of Af Klint’s global reputation.
It was, however, the Guggenheim exhibition that gave Af Klint what she did deserve, and over a century after she undoubtedly created abstract art, she also painted one of the most bewitching if underappreciated canvases in art history.
Hilma Af Klint and her later works
Later paintings were much smaller in size. The Swedish artist created paintings portraying the viewpoints of different faiths at different times in history, in addition to portrayals of the dichotomy between both the physiological being and its esoteric equivalence.
As Hilma Af Klint continued to pursue her artistic and esoteric research, it is possible to detect a certain motivation from the Anthroposophical Society’s artistic theories developed from 1920 onwards.
In June 1922, she resumed painting, this time in a more overtly anthroposophical style, with soft brushstrokes pouring into each other and no underlying drawing. With titles like Looking at the Rose Hip II and Looking at Mallow, she decided to return to her curiosity in botany, working with plants.
The Hilma af Klint Foundation
According to the statutes, the Foundation’s mission is to retain and manage Hilma Af Klint’s artistic heritage. The Foundation encourages and promotes scholarly work on many of Hilma Af Klint’s works. The institution is funded by its own earnings as well as private donations.
The Foundation owns the artist Hilma Af Klint’s abstract works, art pieces, and various bits of creation (sketches, sketchbooks, notebooks, and other substantial content as per her will), all numbered in accordance with the register established by Olof Sundström in 1945.
For the time being, the Hilma Af Klint Foundation does not engage in any museum activities, but it has a long-term agreement of collaboration with the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, ensuring that writings by Hilma Af Klint are always displayed in the collection. Collaboration with the exhibition and its staff also guarantees a professional level of knowledge and experience for the Foundation’s activity.
6 Facts about Hilma Af Klint
1. Hilma Af Klint was the pioneer of abstract art
For a long period of time, Wassily Kandinsky was thought to have launched abstract concepts into artwork in 1911. But nevertheless, we now understand that artist Hilma Af Klint was creating abstract art as early as 1906.
As a result, she is considered the first leader of abstract work and a keen observer. Her initial botanical drawings, flower paintings, and portraits reflected the expectations of a woman from a great family, particularly a daughter of the nobility, at the turn of the century.
While Hilma Af Klint initially painted naturalistic scenes and packed her canvases as well as drawing sheets with flower themes and portraits, she abandoned realism painting at the age of 44 and transformed it into abstract art.
2. Hilma Af Klint was the first woman to study
Hilma Af Klint studied art at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm prior to actually beginning her large-format paintings. Sweden was one of the first European nations to allow women to attend university. She decided to move to a studio in central Stockholm after finishing her studies, where she ended up spending the first years of her art career.
Blanch’s Café and Blanche Art Gallery were also housed in the building, in which traditional academic art collided with the Artists Association’s concepts, which were motivated by French Plein-air painters.
3. Hilma Af Klint: The Painter of the Future
Hilma Af Klint is still referred to as the “Future Painter.” This reference could also be given by her. The painter stipulated in her will that her works of art not be shown to a wide audience for 20 years after her passing. The artist was confident that her peers would not understand the full significance of her paintings.
4. The Five (De Fem)
Hilma Af Klint was fascinated by Theosophy and Anthroposophy. She started to engage in séances and make a connection with the souls in the late 1870s. She and four other women eventually formed the group “De Fem” [The Five] in 1896, for example, to communicate with “high masters” in another region of space through the rear of glasses.
These practices gradually altered her work as well. Throughout that time, she began to experiment with automatic illustrations. Later, she made it her mission to portray in her works of art the secret of the universe’s unity, despite the fact that it is noticeable in duality.
According to investigators, Hilma Af Klint’s involvement in the paranormal stems from both the untimely death of her sister, Hermina Af Klint, whose spirit she attempted to communicate with, and a common interest that was popular in the late nineteenth century.
Attention to the supernatural is regarded as a phenomenon of her time, a period in which many innovations in the field of the ethereal were made: the telephone, radio waves, electromagnetic radiation, and ultrasound.
Hilma Af Klint began a thorough investigation of the supernatural in 1917/18. This can be seen in her “Studies on Spiritual Life,” which includes the Parsifal series, even today. This set includes components found in the artist’s other works, such as concentric rings, geometric shapes, and lightly painted colors.
5. Hilma Af Klint painted a temple of her work
Not only did the artist Hilma Af Klint envision her works being hidden from the general public until 20 years following her death, but she also envisioned them being presented in a unique way. Hilma Af Klint created a temple for her works of art, which visitors must traverse in a spiral. They were to stride from picture to picture, series to series, all the way to the summit of the temple, to the dome that would offer a view of the stars.
The artist wasn’t only impacted by the theosophist and anthropologist Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines, but also by her trips to Steinert in Switzerland. It is claimed that the impact of Rudolf Steinert in the 1920s caused Hilma Af Klint to abandon the use of geometrical shapes in her paintings.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York today resembles a temple that Hilma Af Klint would’ve wished for her masterpieces. From October 2018 to April 2019, a major case study of the author’s work was held at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Abstract Art.
6. Hilma Af Klint’s Magnum Opus
The artist started her Paintings for the Temple in 1906 and finished them in 1915, completing approximately 193 works of art in various series and groups. According to the title of the cycle, she had envisaged these works of art in her temple, but they were never realized.
In her early years, Hilma Af Klint is believed to have painted like a crazy woman on these, one of the first purely abstract compositions. It is estimated that 111 works of art in various formats were created in 1908.
The Ten Largest is a well-known series from the huge painting cycle. The abstract configurations depict the progression of life, from conception to death, in a few simple forms and bright colors.
The hidden treasure of Hilma Af Klint
Before the 1980s, Af Klint was mostly known to art society and art historians as a portraitist, illustrator, and visual artist of evocative botanical studies. According to what is known, she only showed a few people the abstract works — floral, landscape paintings, bubbling pastures of color accompanied by looping flowers and motifs, as well as alphabets, patterns, often unintelligible words and symbols that float across the surfaces of the paintings.
Perhaps as a result of their reactions, Hilma Af Klint felt that the world would not comprehend her nonfigurative work and advised her heir not to exhibit the abstract paintings until 20 years after her passing.
Erik Af Klint, a naval officer who understood nothing about art but gladly obeyed his aunt’s hibernation clause, was that heir. So when crates were decided to be opened in the late 1960s, the paintings astounded everyone.
But so did the 26,000 pages of Af Klint’s form of communication, many of which detailed the paintings’ creation beginning in 1906, led by a spirit advisor named Amaliel, who tried contacting Af Klint during séances and not just “commissioned” the paintings but, she tried to claim, directed her hand as she painted.
She went on to paint several more visual representations of abstract series, summing up 1,300 projects, in addition to a few portrait commissions and some other naturalistic works, the whereabouts of which are unknown today. Af Klint ended up spending the last decades of her life pursuing her spiritual path in addition to painting.
Her search for a home for the paintings took her all the way to Dornach, Switzerland, where she hoped Rudolf Steiner, the scholar and founder of anthroposophy, with whom Hilma had become associated for several years, might desire them for his new spiritual center.
Hilma Af Klint was very well aware of her art’s singularity. She focused her efforts on herself and her own growth in order to comprehend the artistic thinking in which she was engaged. “What is the message that the paintings are conveying?” was the overarching question. She looked for solutions in philosophy, religion, and archives, but she couldn’t find them.
Hilma Af Klint hoped that her work would indeed influence not only people’s consciousness overall but also the community itself. She was, however, reassured that her peers just weren’t ready to comprehend her art. The “High Ones,” her spiritual leaders, had given her strict orders not to show the works of art to anyone. She presumed that the works truly belong in the future and that only after that would the public understand them.
The value of becoming forgotten
To understand why her art developed the way it did and why it remained as secret paintings for so long, it is likely worth considering her life events as well as her own position.
Hilma Af Klint was born to Swedish naval commander Captain Victor Af Klint and his wife, Mathilda Af Klint. During World War I, Sweden retained militarized neutrality, but she was all too cognizant of the carnage.
Her Swan series, which began shortly after the outbreak of war, pits white swans against black as forms become abstracted, meandering in consonance, diluting into inventive geometric visual language and pure abstract thought — until the two swans are locked together at the end. Each had aspects of the other.
Hilma Af Klint’s final years and legacy
Throughout her existence, Hilma Af Klint sought to unravel the mysteries of the spiritual dimension that she had encountered through her work. She left behind over 150 notebooks containing her opinions and studies.
Almost all of her work is now possessed by the Hilma Af Klint Foundation, which was established by her family. It will never be dispersed by the art world or the subject of dealer speculation.
Instead, it serves as a constant source of inspiration for both scholars and audiences, who gaze at the contemplative beauty of her forms, the radiance of her color, and the way she opens her eyes to fresh ways of seeing.
Hilma Af Klint died on October 21, 1944, five days prior to her 82nd birth anniversary, as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident.
Hilma Af Klint’s contemporary art and complex spiritual ideas are counterintuitively sensitive and potent, quietly and privately delivering a loud and essential message. The woman was a pioneer, creating abstract canvases five years before Wassily Kandinsky and conducting experiments with drawing and writing steered by the unconscious decades well before Surrealists.
As a mystic and medium, Af Klint performed séances as well as tried to communicate with the spirit world, even receiving a signal from higher forces to create her most famous spiritual body of work, Paintings for the Temple.
Af Klint’s sensitivity to the ephemeral was married to a scientific and analytical approach to life. She was a passionate botanist who was well-versed in scientific methods and world religions.
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