Hilma af Klint, the Pioneer of Abstract Art

Walter Raymond

Long before Kandinsky and Mondrian, this mysterious Swedish artist painted enigmatic works that will be soon in full display at The Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York will exhibit Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, a remarkable recognition of an artist whose transcendence is still controversial. The exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in collaboration with the Swedish Hilma af Klint Foundation. The show will be on display from October 12 to February 3, 2019, and will cover Klint’s unique creative period between 1906 and 1920 in which she produced works that could be considered the first manifestations of abstract art.

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.

/ All images: © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

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.

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. ■

© | 2019