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Abstract Art "Origins"... Hilma Af Klimt's High Masters!

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Abstract painting is an art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks to achieve its effect.

Abstract Paintings value apparently is not about the artist's techniques, the realistic color tones or lines, and boundaries, but instead, it is about the philosophy behind the abstraction practices.

To understand the core of abstraction we need to have a close look at the abstraction forerunner artists biographies.

Hilma Af Klimt's spiritual life evoked by the death of her sister.

Hilma Af Klint was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings are considered among the first abstract works known in Western art history.

A considerable body of her work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, visually represented complex spiritual ideas.

Hilma Af Klimt was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. During the years 1882–1887,

Hilma studied mainly drawing, portrait painting, 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 1880 Hilma's younger sister Hermina died, the spiritual dimension of Hilma's life began to develop.

Hilma's interest in abstraction and symbolism came from Hilma af Klint's involvement in spiritism, very much in vogue at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.

Hilma af Klint (26 October 1862 – 21 October 1944)
Hilma af Klint (26 October 1862 – 21 October 1944)

Abstract Art by Hilma Af Klimt

With the death of Hilma's sister, She became interested in the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky and the philosophy of Christian Rosencreutz.

Hilma belonged to a group called "The Five", comprising a circle of women inspired by Theosophy, who shared a belief in the importance of trying to contact the so-called "High Masters" often by way of séancesa.

The word séancesa comes from the French word for "session" and from the Old French seoir, "to sit", a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead, especially through the agency of a medium.

At the Academy of Fine Arts, Hilma 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 other members were Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman, and Mathilda Nilsson. ''The Five'' began their association as members of the Edelweiss Society, which embraced a combination of the Theosophical teachings of Helena Blavatsky and spiritualism.

All of The Five were interested in the paranormal and regularly organized spiritistic séances. They opened each meeting with a prayer, followed by a meditation, a Christian sermon, and a review and analysis of a text from the New Testament.

This would be followed by a séance. They recorded in a book a completely new system of mystical thought, in the form of messages from higher spirits called The High Masters ("Höga Mästare").

In 1906, after 20 years of artistic works, and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted her first series of abstract paintings. She felt the abstract work and the meaning within were so groundbreaking that the world was not ready to see it, and she wished for the work to remain unseen for 20 years after her death.

In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to Moderna Museet in Stockholm, but the donation was declined. Erik Af Klint then donated thousands of drawings and paintings to a foundation bearing the artist's name in the 1970s.

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.

Wassily Kandinsky “I got everything from the Secret Doctrine of Blavatsky."

Kandinsky openly acknowledges that his art theories are based on the occult teachings of Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, and author of The Secret Doctrine. he wrote in 1918 “I got everything from the Secret Doctrine of Blavatsky.

Although Russian by birth, Kandinsky belonged to the German expressionist movement known as Die Brücke [The Bridge] founded in 1905. Rejecting their “bourgeois” backgrounds, they adopted a bohemian lifestyle, free love, and represented nudity in their art.

This group was also strongly influenced by magic through the occult theories of Blavatsky, Anne Besant, and Charles Webster Leadbeater.

 Wassily  Kandinsky(16 December 1866 – 13 December 1944)
Wassily Kandinsky(16 December 1866 – 13 December 1944)

Piet Mondrian "I am always driven to the spiritual, Mondrian stated."

Another forerunner in Abstract Art is the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian who was also a theosophist and a close friend of the philosopher and mystic Schoenmaekers.

Schoenmaekers is the author of many works on “rationalist mysticism” including The New Image of the World, which proposes a whole system of universal symbolism that attempts to explain the meaning of colors, forms, and lines.

“I am always driven to the spiritual,” Mondrian stated. “Through Theosophy, I became aware that art could provide a transition to the finer regions, which I will call the spiritual realm.”

Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan 7 March 1872 1 February 1944
Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan 7 March 1872 1 February 1944

What Is Theosophy?

The Theosophical Society, founded in 1875, is a worldwide body to advance the ideas of Theosophy in continuation of previous Theosophists, especially the Greek and Alexandrian Neo-Platonic philosophers dating back to the 3rd century CE.

It also encompasses wider religious philosophies like Vedānta, Mahāyāna Buddhism, Qabbalah, and Sufism.

The Theosophical Society functions as a bridge between East and West, emphasizing the commonality of human culture.

The term "theosophy" comes from the Greek term "theosophia", which is composed of two words:

Theos "gods," or "divine" and Sophia which means wisdom.

The term "Theosophia", therefore, may be translated as "wisdom of the gods", "wisdom in things divine", or "Divine Wisdom".After having a close look at abstraction's origins.

Abstract Painting as An Art Style!

Abstraction of details or semi-abstraction style could help the artist to emphasize and focus on the core message of a painting, a step forward in reducing the distortion of thoughts of the viewer.

whilst full abstract paintings could be beautiful and creative but because of the low painting skill level it requires, it is indeed reproducible and lack the factor of uniqueness.

The key point, the artist approaches human emotions to deliver a message, in the case of fully abstracted paintings, the artist could touch viewers' emotions, but there will be no message to deliver.

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