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Hilma af Klint
""Portrait of Hilma af Klint.jpg
Portrait photo by an unknown photographer, c. 1900 or earlier
Born October 26, 1862
"Karlberg Palace
Died October 21, 1944 (1944-10-22) (aged 81)
Nationality "Swedish
Education "Tekniska skolan, "Royal Swedish Academy of Arts
Known for "Painting
Movement "naturalism, "abstract art

Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944) was a "Swedish "artist and "mystic whose paintings were amongst the first "abstract art.[1] A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by "Kandinsky.[2] She belonged to a group called "The Five", a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called "High Masters" – often by way of séances. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.


Early life[edit]

Eftersommar (Late Summer) an early naturalistic work, painted by af Klint in 1903. An example of the works she exhibited to the public during her lifetime.

The fourth child of Captain Victor af Klint, a Swedish naval commander, and Mathilda af Klint (née Sonntag), Hilma af Klint spent summers with her family at their manor Hanmora on the island of "Adelsö in "Lake Mälaren. In these idyllic surroundings Hilma came into contact with nature at an early stage in her life and this deep association with natural forms was to be an inspiration in her work. Later in life, Hilma af Klint came to live on a permanent basis at Munsö, an island next to Adelsö.

From her family, Hilma af Klint inherited a great interest for "mathematics and "botany. She showed an early ability in visual art, and after the family moved to Stockholm, she studied at the "Academy of Fine Arts of Stockholm (Konstakademien), where she learned portraiture and landscape painting. This choice was quite controversial at this time, as very few women had access to higher studies in the beginning of the 20th century. She was admitted at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. During the years 1882–1887 she studied mainly drawing, and portrait- and landscape painting. She graduated with honors, and was allocated a scholarship in the form of a studio in the so-called "Atelier Building" (Ateljébyggnaden), owned by The Academy of Fine Arts in the crossing between "Hamngatan and "Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm. This was the main cultural hub in the Swedish capital at that time. The same building also held "Blanch's Café and Blanchs Art Gallery, where the conflict stood between the conventional art view of the Academy of Fine Arts, and the opposition movement of the "Art Society" (Konstnärsförbundet), inspired by the French "En Plein Air painters. Hilma af Klint began working in Stockholm, gaining recognition for her landscapes, botanical drawings, and portraits.[3]

Her conventional painting became the source of financial income. But her 'life's work' remained a quite separate practice.["citation needed]

Spiritual and philosophical ideas[edit]

In 1880 her younger sister Hermina died and it was at this time that the spiritual dimension of her life began to develop.[4]

Her interest in abstraction and symbolism came from Hilma af Klint's involvement in "spiritism, very much in vogue at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Hilma af Klint became interested in the "Theosophy of "Madame Blavatsky and the philosophy of "Christian Rosencreutz. In 1908 she met "Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the "Anthroposophical Society, who was on a visit to Stockholm. Rudolf Steiner initiated her in his own theories regarding the Arts, and would have a certain influence on her paintings later in life. Several years later, in 1920, she met him again at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society. Between 1921 and 1930 she spent long periods at the Goetheanum.

Af Klint's work can be understood in the wider context of the "Modernist search for new forms in artistic, spiritual, political and scientific systems at the beginning of the 20th century.[5] One will find the same interest in spirituality in other artist during this same period, such as "Wassily Kandinsky, "Piet Mondrian, "Kasimir Malevitch and the French "Nabis of which many were, like af Klint, inspired by the "Theosophical Movement.[6] However, the artistic transition to abstract art and the non figurative painting of Hilma af Klint would occur without any contacts with the contemporary modern movements.

The works of Hilma af Klint are mainly spiritual, and her artistic work is a consequence of this.


Svanen (The Swan), nr 17, Group 9, Series SUW, October 1914 – March 1915. This abstract work was never exhibited during af Klint's lifetime.

At the Academy of Fine Arts she met "Anna Cassel, the first of the four women with whom she later worked in "The Five" (de Fem), a group of artists who shared her ideas. The group of female artists The Five was engaged in the paranormal and regularly organized spiritistic séances. They recorded in a book a completely new system of mystical thoughts in the form of messages from higher spirits, called The High Masters ("Höga Mästare"). One, Gregor, spoke thus: "all the knowledge that is not of the senses, not of the intellect, not of the heart but is the property that exclusively belongs to the deepest aspect of your being...the knowledge of your spirit".["citation needed]

Through her work with the group The Five Hilma af Klint created experimental "automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric "visual language capable of conceptualizing invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds.["citation needed] As she got more familiar with this form of expression, Hilma af Klint was assigned by the High Masters to create the paintings for the "Temple" – however she never understood what this "Temple" referred to. Hilma af Klint felt she was being directed by a force that would literally guide her hand. She wrote in her notebook :

“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.”[7]

In 1906, after 20 years of artistic works, and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted the first series of abstract paintings.

The work for the Temple ran between 1906 and 1915, carried out in two phases with an interruption between 1908 and 1912. As Hilma af Klint discovered this new form of visual expression, she developed a new artistic language. Her painting became more autonomous and more intentional. The spiritual would however continue being the main source of creativity throughout the rest of her life.

The collection for the Temple counts in total 193 paintings, grouped in several sub-series. The major paintings, dated 1907, are extremely large in size : each painting measures approximately 2,40 x 3,20m. This series, called The Ten Largest, describes the different phases in life, from early childhood to old age.

Quite apart from their diagrammatic purpose the paintings have a freshness and a modern aesthetic of tentative line and hastily captured image: a segmented circle, a helix bisected and divided into a spectrum of lightly painted colors. The artistic world of Hilma af Klint is impregnated with symbols, letters and words. The paintings often depicts symmetrical dualities, or reciprocities : up and down, in and out, earthly and esoteric, male and female, good and evil. The colour choice is throughout metaphorical: blue stands for the female spirit, yellow for the male one, and pink / red for physical / spiritual love. The Swan and the Dove, names of two series of the Paintings for the Temple, are also symbolic, representing respectively transcendence and love. As gates to other dimensions, her paintings call for interpretation on a narrative, esoterically and artistic level.

When Hilma af Klint had completed the works for the Temple, the spiritual guidance ended. However, she pursued abstract painting, now independently from any external influence. If the paintings for the Temple were mostly oil paintings, she now also used aquarelle. Her later paintings are significantly smaller in size. She painted among others a series depicting the stand-points of different religions at various stages in history, as well as representations of the duality between the physical being and its equivalence on an esoteric level. As Hilma af Klint pursued her artistic and esoteric research, it is possible to perceive a certain inspiration from the artistic theories developed by the Antroposophical Society from 1920 onward.

All through her life, Hilma af Klint would seek to understand the mysteries that she had come in contact with through her work. She left behind more than 150 notebooks with her thoughts and studies.[8]

Hilma af Klint never dared to show her abstract work to her contemporaries. Her major work, the one dedicated to the Temple, had been questioned and rejected by Rudolf Steiner. Hilma af Klint drew the conclusion that her time was not yet ready to understand them. More than 1200 paintings and drawings were carefully stored away in her atelier, waiting for the future.

Hilma af Klint died in 1944, nearly 82 years old, in the aftermath of a traffic accident.


In her will, Hilma af Klint left all her abstract paintings to her nephew, vice-admiral in the Swedish Royal Navy. She specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. When the boxes were opened at the end of the 1960s, very few persons had knowledge of what would be revealed.

In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to "Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which declined the donation. Thanks to the art historian Åke Fant, her art was introduced to an international audience in the 1980s, when he presented her at a "Nordik conference in "Helsinki in 1984. Erik af Klint then donated thousands of drawings and paintings to a foundation bearing the artist’s name in the 1970s.[9]

The collection of abstract paintings of Hilma af Klint counts more than 1200 pieces. It is owned and managed by the Hilma af Klint Foundation[10] in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2017, Norwegian architectural firm "Snøhetta presented plans for an exhibition centre dedicated af Klint in "Järna, south of Stockholm, with estimated building costs of between €6 million and €7.5 million.[11]

Cultural references[edit]

Exhibitions (posthumous)[edit]

The abstract work of Hilma af Klint was shown for the first time at the exhibition "The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890–1985" organized by "Maurice Tuchman in "Los Angeles in 1986. This exhibition was the starting point of her international recognition.

Selected exhibitions[edit]




  1. ^ Cain, Abigail. "What Was the First Abstract Artwork?". Artsy.net. Retrieved 2017-03-31. 
  2. ^ Voss, Julia. "The first abstract artist? (And it's not Kandinsky)". www.tate.org.uk. Tate Modern. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen". Serpentine Galleries. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  4. ^ Kellaway, Kate (2016-02-21). "Hilma af Klint: a painter possessed". The Guardian. "ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  5. ^ Liam Taft – Invisible art: rediscovering the work of Hilma af Klint National Student, April 19, 2017
  6. ^ Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye
  7. ^ Iris Müller-Westermann – Paintings for the Temple – Moderna Museet Stockholm
  8. ^ Witt, Karolina. "Hilma af Klint Tempelbilderna och historieskrivningen" (PDF). www.diva-portal.org. Halmstad University. Retrieved 4 Dec 2015. 
  9. ^ Clemens Bomsdorf (April 13, 2017), Museum for pioneer of abstraction Hilma af Klint is stuck in limbo "The Art Newspaper.
  10. ^ Foundation Hilma af Klint
  11. ^ Clemens Bomsdorf (April 13, 2017), Museum for pioneer of abstraction Hilma af Klint is stuck in limbo "The Art Newspaper.
  12. ^ Acne Studios – Projects – Hilma af Klint
  13. ^ "Jane Weaver on the mystical inspiration for her space rock". The Independent. 2017-07-10. Retrieved 2018-01-15. 
  14. ^ Art view; How the spiritual infused the abstract – New York Times, Published December 21, 1986
  15. ^ 3 x Abstraction – The Drawing Center
  16. ^ 3 x Abstraction – Santa Monica Museum of Art Archived 2017-08-20 at the "Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Out of this World – The Guardian, Published March 14, 2006
  18. ^ The Secret Painter Hilma af Klint at MMKA – Metropolis M, Published April 23, 2010
  19. ^ Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction, "Moderna museet Stockholm
  20. ^ Hilma af Klint – a Pioneer of Abstraction, Museo Picasso Málaga
  21. ^ Hilma af Klint – a Pioneer of Abstraction, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
  22. ^ (in French) Cosa mentale – Imaginaries of Telepathy of the 20th-Century Art , Centre Pompidou – Metz (read 08-04-2017)
  23. ^ Hilma af Klint : Painting the Unseen, Serpentine Galleries
  24. ^ The Keeper, New Museum of Contemporary Art
  25. ^ Beyond Stars – The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky, Musée d'Orsay Archived 2017-02-02 at the "Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ (in French) Jardin infini. De Giverny à l’Amazonie, Centre Pompidou Metz
  27. ^ L’emozione dei COLORI nell’arte
  28. ^ As Above, So Below
  29. ^ Aidan Dunne -An alternative history of art of the last century Irish Times, April 18, 2017
  30. ^ Intiuition, Axel Vervoodt Foundation
  31. ^ GIBCA 2017
  32. ^ Hilma af Klint, Pinacoteca in Sao Paolo
  33. ^ Hilma af Klint, Guggenheim

External links[edit]

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