Hilma af Klint, the Pioneer of Abstract Art

Walter Raymond

Long before Kandinsky and Mondrian, this mysterious Swedish artist painted enigmatic works that are only now, in the 21st century, beginning to be understood and valued in all its dimensions.

The Swedish artist Hilma af Klint is considered the forerunner of abstract art with her magnificent works, created between 1906 – 1920, which only in the 21st century were understood and valued in all their dimensions. Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York exhibited a unique and impressive exhibition called “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” a remarkable recognition for the work of the artist whose transcendence is still controversial. The exhibition was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with the collaboration of the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm.

Born in 1862, Hilma af Klint graduated with honors from the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, and belonged to the first generation of European women academically trained in art. She began by expressing herself through figurative painting and natural landscapes, a very representative style in that period.

Family events and influences of spiritual movements such as spiritualism, theosophy and anthroposophy led Hilma af Klint to channel her creativity in works that are currently considered precursors of abstract art, an artistic manifestation which was developed later by Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich.

/ All images: © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Spiritual art

The loss of her sister Hermina in 1880 kindled her interest in religion and spiritualism. Later, in 1896, she joined a small group of women called “De Fem,” a group of friends who met to contact “superior teachers” and practice automatic writing and painting. Deepening her interest in the metaphysical experience and human conscience, Klint received an order to make paintings to represent the immortal aspects of human beings.

In 1906, she began to reflect on canvas what she considered a higher, divine being expressing through her paintings: “Those pieces were painted directly by me, with great energy and no preliminary draft. I had no idea what the images represented, and yet I worked quickly and safely, without touching up a single brushstroke,” she said later. From that period, Klint’s most representative work, The Paintings for the Temple, consists of several series of works, from which Primordial Chaos stands out.

Hilma af Klint kept her work secret and only a chosen few had access to it. One of them was philosopher Rudolf Steiner who, amazed by her paintings, advised her to hide them because they would never be understood. His influence led her to ask that her work would be displayed only 20 years after his death. Hilma af Klint produced more than a thousand paintings, watercolors and sketches that she didn’t show publicly in life.

Finally in 1986, a small part of her work was exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but only a few galleries would dare to show her work as it was not yet legitimized by the art market and the most important museums of the world.

But something is changing. For ten years, Hilma af Klint’s paintings have been included in several exhibitions in Europe and the United States. Only now, in the 21st century, her work begins to be understood and valued in all its dimensions. ■

Related Articles:

Nudity in Today’s Contemporary Art Scene

Michele Oka Doner: A Myriad of Artistic Expressions

Remedios Varo at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico

© | 2019