Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944) is the Swedish artist who produced wondrous abstract paintings.
Most of us know other tyros of abstract art, like Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and Delaunay. You only need their surnames But Hilma af Klint passed many of us by.
When Kandinsky wrote to his New York gallerist Jerome Neumann in December 1935, he was keen to cement his reputation. “Indeed, it’s the world’s first ever abstract picture,” he wrote, “because back then not one single painter was painting in an abstract style. A ‘historic painting’, in other words.”
Except it wasn’t true. Hilma af Klint got there first in 1906.
Hilma af Klint paintings and Theosophy
Klint’s father, backed her to study at Stockholm's Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Things changed when she encountered Madame Blavatsky and her theosophy. She attended her first seance at 17. And soon after set about trying to depict the invisible forces around us.
Infrared light, X-rays and electromagnetic currents and fields were all invisible forces identified, named and explained in Klint’s lifetime. Could she give form to the invisible? She heard voices. A voice without a body told her: “‘You are to proclaim a new philosophy of life and you yourself are to be a part of the new kingdom. Your labours will bear fruit.”
Hilma af Klint art and The Five
Her patron was Amaliel, one of the so-called ‘High Masters’ Klint had reached via a seance. Klint and four fellow artists known as The Five (de Fem) communicated with life on the other side. Klint would channel Amaliel’s mysticism and energy. She worked through a process Surrealists later called ‘automatic drawing’.
Amaliel wanted Klint to construct “an astral plane” and represent the “immortal aspects of man”. Between 1906-1915, Klint created 193 paintings, known as the ‘Paintings for the Temple’.
Hilma af Klint prints and legacy
Her will stated that 1,200 of her paintings, 100 texts and 26,000 pages of notes should not be shown until 20 years after her death. It was not until the 1986 Los Angeles show The Spiritual in Art that her work was seen in public.