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Photography : Åsa Lundén / Museum of Modern Art Stockholm 2013

About Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint and her contemporaries

Hilma af Klint’s (1862-1944) international debut was at the 1986 The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Paintings 1890–1985 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition, which travelled to Chicago and to the Hague in the Netherlands, marked the beginning of Hilma af Klint’s international recognition. Her works have since been displayed in numerous exhibitions in the Nordic countries, Europe and the United States. In 2013, Moderna Museet in Stockholm held the hitherto largest retrospective of the artist, featuring some 230 paintings. After Stockholm, the exhibition travelled throughout Europe and was seen by more than one million visitors. Its impact was significant, particularly the multidisciplinary research it gave rise to.

Hilma af Klint was one of the first women to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. In 1882, at the age of 20, she enrolled at the Academy and spent the next five years studying drawing, portraiture and landscape painting. Graduating with honours, she was awarded a studio in the Academy’s “Atelier Building”, at the junction of Hamngatan and Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm, which at the time was the main cultural hub in the Swedish capital. The building also housed Blanch’s Café and Blanch’s Art Gallery, where traditional academic art clashed with the Artists Association’s ideas, which were inspired by the French plein air painters.

Hilma af Klint left the studio in 1908 to take care of her blind mother, whom she cared for for several years. In 1917, Hilma af Klint inaugurated her new studio on the island of Munsö in Lake Mälaren, close to her family’s estate on the island of Adelsö. After her mother passed away in 1920, Hilma af Klint relocated to Helsingborg in the south of Sweden. From 1935, she resided in Lund. Nine years later, having celebrated her 80th birthday, Hilma af Klint returned to Stockholm, where she stayed at her cousin’s, Hedvig af Klint in Ösby, Djursholm. Following a traffic accident, Hilma af Klint died in the autumn of 1944, aged almost 82.

Like many of her contemporaries at the turn of the previous century, Hilma af Klint sought spiritual knowledge. As a teenager she had participated in spiritistic séances and for a brief period in her thirties she was a member of the Edelweiss Society. The Rosicrucian Order was also a major source of inspiration. However, she was particularly influenced by the Theosophical Society, which she joined at its inception in Sweden in 1889.

In 1896, Hilma af Klint and four other like-minded women artists left the Edelweiss Society and founded the “Friday Group”, also known as “The Five”. They met every Friday for spiritual meetings, including prayers, studies of the New Testament, meditation and séances. The medium exercised automatic writing and mediumistic drawing. Eventually they established contact with spiritual beings whom they called “The High Ones”. In 1896, the five women began taking meticulous notes of the mediumistic messages conveyed by the spirits. In time, Hilma af Klint felt she had been selected for more important messages. After ten years of esoteric training with “The Five”, aged 43, Hilma af Klint accepted a major assignment, the execution of The Paintings for the Temple. This commission, which engaged the artist from 1906 to 1915, changed the course of her life. In 1908, Rudolf Steiner, leader of the German Theosophical Society, held several lectures in Stockholm. He also visited af Klint’s studio and saw some of the early Paintings for the Temple. In 1913, Steiner founded the Anthroposophical Society, which af Klint joined in 1920 and remained a member for the rest of her life.

The Paintings for the Temple encompasses 193 works, subdivided into series and sub-groups. It is one of the first examples of abstract art in the west, predating by several years the first non-figurative compositions of her European contemporaries. Hilma af Klint shared an interest in the spiritual with the other pioneers of abstract art including Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and František Kupka. They all wished to surpass the restrictions of the physical world. Unsurprisingly, many were drawn to Theosophy, as its ideas proposed an attractive alternative to the static principles of academic art. The abstract, non-figurative art opened up a radically new means of expression. Rather than depicting a mere visual impression they aimed to chart a new route towards a spiritual reality. Each of these artists found his or her own personal entry into abstract painting.

There is no evidence that Hilma af Klint was involved in the abstract movement of her male contemporary colleagues, nor that she participated in the development of early Modernism in Central and Western Europe. Nevertheless, she arrived at a similar, non-representational aesthetic. Contact with spiritual guides, who both inspired and communicated with her, was for Hilma af Klint as real as the impressions provided by the five physical senses. By visualising inner processes and experiences and describing these as concretely and precisely as possible she proceeded to develop a highly idiosyncratic expression.

Hilma af Klint was convinced that reality was not confined to the physical world. Parallel to the material dimension there existed an inner realm the contents of which were as true and real as those of the outer world. In order to convey this message, Hilma af Klint employed dualistic symbols, letters and words to express that “Everything is Unity”. Nurturing an inner, spiritual maturity, Hilma af Klint aimed to develop an artistic approach to her esoteric material and express it in her paintings. She struck a delicate balance between regulating her inner impulses and expressing them in her work. A solid education and more than 20 years of professional artistic experience had provided her with the necessary tools for realising her ambition.

Hilma af Klint was well aware of the uniqueness of her art. She worked intensely with herself and on her personal development in order to understand the creative process in which she was involved. The overshadowing question was: “What is the message that the paintings convey?” She sought for answers in philosophy, religion and archives – but to no avail. Hilma af Klint envisioned that her work would contribute to influencing not only the consciousness of people in general but also society itself. However, she was convinced that her contemporaries were not ready to understand her art. She had received strict orders from the “High Ones”, her spiritual leaders, not to show the paintings to anyone. She believed that the works belonged to the future and only then would they be understood by the public.

On her death in autumn 1944, Hilma af Klint left more than 1,300 works, which had only been seen by a handful of people, in addition to some 125 notebooks. In one of them she stipulated that her work should not be publicly displayed until 20 years after her death. She also expressed her desire that the 193 Paintings for the Temple should be kept together. The work of Hilma af Klint is owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

 

Timeline

1862
Hilma af Klint is born at Karlberg Palace (Karlbergs slott), Stockholm, on October 26, 1862.

1872
The family moves to Norrtullsgatan and later to Bastugatan (Sveavägen today) in Stockholm.
The family spends summers at the family mansions Hanmora and Täppan in the estate of Tofta gård on Adelsö in the lake Mälaren.
Hilma af Klint attends the General School for Girls (Normalskolan för flickor) on Riddargatan in Stockholm.

1879-1882
Participates in spiritistic séances.

1880
Attends The Technical School (Tekniska Skolan, today’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design or Konstfack) in Stockholm, and studies portrait painting for Kerstin Cardon.
Her sister Hermina dies at the age of 10, which spurs Hilma af Klint’s religious involvement.

1882-87
Attends the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Kungl. Konstakademien).
Graduates with honors, and is awarded a studio in the “Atelier Building” (Ateljéhuset) at the crossing between Hamngatan and Kungsträdgården in Stockholm. Her fellow Anna Cassel becomes her life time friend.

1887-1905
Works as a portraitist and landscape painter.

1889
Becomes member of the Teosophical Society, founded the same year in the house of the Swedish writer Viktor Rydberg in Stockholm.

1896-1897
Member of the Edelweiss Society.

1896
First annotations by the group “The Five”, that Hilma af Klint has founded with four other friends.
The group holds séances and exercises automatic drawings.
They make contact with spirits, whom they call “The High Ones”.

1898
Her father dies.

1899
Hilma af Klint moves to an apartment on Brahegatan 52, Stockholm, together with her mother.

1900-01
Works as a draughtsman for the Veterinary Institute.

1904
During a séance with “The Five”, she is told that she will be commissioned to carry out paintings on the astral plane.

1905
With the guidance of the spirit Amaliel, spends one year of cleansing and preparation for the commission.

1906
Paints 26 paintings, which constitute the first preparatory group of the “Paintings for the Temple”.

1907-1908
Paints the first 111 pieces of the “Paintings for the Temple”.
Meets Rudolf Steiner for the first time in Stockholm 1908.
He is unable to decipher the paintings and claims that no one during the coming 50 years will be able to.

1908
Her mother becomes blind.
Hilma af Klint gives up her studio at Hamngatan and moves to a studio in a building on Brahegatan in Stockholm.

1908-12
A four-year pause in her work on “The Paintings for the Temple” begins.
Studies philosophy.
Refrains from landscape- and portrait painting.

1912
Rents the villa Furuheim on the Bona property, located on the island Munsö in the archipelago of the lake Malären, owned by the family Giertta.

1913
Participates in the world congress of the Theosophical Society in Stockholm.

1914
Exhibits naturalistic paintings at the Baltic exhibition in Malmö – where also W. Kandinsky exhibits artworks.

1912-1915
In 1912 resumes working on the “Paintings for the Temple”.
1912-1915 she paints 82 pieces, and concludes the “Paintings for the Temple” in 1915 (193 paintings in total).

1916-1920
Through several series of paintings, Hilma af Klint pursues her studies of various aspects, represented as metaphysical pictures.
To these belong the series “Parsifal”, and “Atoms”, as well as studies of religions, plants, animals, lichen, mosses, minerals, precious stones, etc.

1917
The construction of the atelier with religious connotations is completed at Munsö close to Furuheim, on land belonging to the Bona property. The paintings are shown for a few selected people.

1918
Moves to villa Furuheim with her mother and her nurse, Thomasine Andersson.

1920
Her mother dies.
Moves to Helsingborg (Karl X Gustafs gata) during the winter together with Thomasine Andersson.
Becomes member of the Antroposophical Society.
First trip to Dornach, Switzerland.

1921-1930
Spends periods in Dornach.
Studies the Theory of Colors of Goethe.
In 1922, begins watercolor painting.

1925-1930
No annotations nor dated paintings remain from these years.

1927
Donates the fundamental studies of flowers, mosses and lichen to the scientific library in Dornach.
This collection was a major part of the esoteric systematization system of nature, developed by Hilma af Klint.
This collection seems to have disappeared.

1932
Paints “The Blitz over London” and “The Mediterranean Naval Battle”, which would take place during the Second World War, seven years later.

1935
Moves to Lund, Grönegatan 28.

1937
Anna Cassel dies.

1940
Thomasine Andersson dies.

1944
Moves to her cousin Hedvig af Klint in Ösby, Djursholm, Stockholm.
Passes away on October 21, 1944 in the aftermath of a traffic accident, nearly 82 years old.

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