Updated: Dec 3, 2022
Hilma af Klint (26 October 1862 – 21 October 1944) was a Swedish artist and whose paintings are considered among the first abstract works known in Western art history. Her paintings were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.
She was admitted at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. During the years 1882–1887 she 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.
Grief to the loss of her sister
Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, Grief often involves intense sadness, and sometimes feelings of shock, numbness or even denial and anger.
In 1880 Hilma's younger sister Hermina died, and it was at this time that the spiritual dimension of her life began to develop. Her 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.
With the death of her sister, She became interested in the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky and the philosophy of Christian Rosencreutz. She 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 (A séance or seance, The word séance comes from the French word for "session", 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 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 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.
A considerable body of Hilma's abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian.
In 1908 she met Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner "an Austrian occultist, social reformer, architect, esotericist, and claimed clairvoyant. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published works including The Philosophy of Freedom." the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, who was visiting Stockholm. Steiner introduced her to his own theories regarding the Arts.
Several years later, in 1920, she met him again at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society.
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 i 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.
The next time you stand in front of an abstract painting, remember, it all started as an occult message by Hilma Af Klint.