Hilma af Klint in her studio at Hamngatan, circa 1895. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation. Photo : Moderna Museet, Stockholm Hilma af Klint in her studio at Hamngatan, circa 1895.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation. Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a pioneer within the non-figurative art movement and is today regarded as one of Sweden's most prominent artists.

Youth

Born on the 26th October in 1862 at Karlberg's castle in Solna, Stockholm, she grew up as the fourth out of five siblings, in a family of marine officers. Her family spent the summers at their estates in Hanmora, and Tofta, Adelsö, by the lake of Mälaren, close to Stockholm. The idyllic environment and close contact with nature would have a great influence on the future artist.

HaK1201 , undated. 24x36cm, oil on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK1201, undated. 24x36cm, oil on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Studies (1882-1887)

Hilma af Klint showed a great talent for art in early years. After having studied at what is today, Konstfack in Stockholm, af Klint was admitted at the age of 20 to the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and was part of the first generation of women to be accepted into the prestigious school. The women were admitted to a special women’s only section where they were educated separately from their fellow male students. Women back then were considered not possess the same innovativeness as men and were prepared to paint copies of artworks or work as illustrators.

Early years

Hilma af Klint attained excellent grades and received a scholarship that granted her access to a studio owned by the Royal Swedish Academy, at the corner of Hamngatan and Kungsträdgården in Stockholm. This building was, at the time, considered to be a cultural centre in the capital of Sweden. The building also housed Blanchs Café and Blanchs Salon where both the Academy and the Artist's Association had a long-lasting feud.

The building housing the Academy's studios, Blanchs Salon and Blanchs Café © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm The building housing the Academy's studios, Blanchs Salon and Blanchs Café
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

A life of obligations and renunciations

Hilma af Klint worked in her studio at Hamngatan up until 1908, when she then had to relocate in order to better take care of her blind mother. Having been heartbroken at a young age, Hilma decided to stay unmarried, and for 12 years, she sacrificed her independence in order to tend to her mother.

Her life was devoted to art and a spiritual research. She provided for herself as a portrait and landscape painter, and took part in many exhibitions, among some at Blanchs Salon as well as at the Baltic Exhibition in Malmö in 1914.

From 1906, she painted almost exclusively in a non-figurative style. As she had bounded herself not to show her spiritually inspired works, much less to sell any of these paintings, and therefore her finances were always strained.

In 1917, af Klint started working from her newly built studio at Munsö, close to her family estate at Adelsö. It had been financed by her friends, who for many years supported her economically.

After her mother's death in 1920, af Klint moved to Helsingborg and later to Lund in 1935. In 1944, when in her 80's she moved back to Stockholm and lived with her cousin Hedvig af Klint at Djursholm. Hilma af Klint passed away that same autumn from injuries in a car accident.

HaK193, Mänsklig kyskhet, Altarbilder, 1915. 46x30cm, tempera and olja on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK193, Human Chastity, Altarpieces, 1915. 46x30cm, tempera and oil on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Spiritual interests

Alike many of her contemporaries, at the last turn of the century, af Klint was involved in a spiritual quest. Already as a teenager, she had tried out spiritual seances. She was a member of the Edelweiss Association for a short period and a member of the Theosophical Society between 1889 to 1915. She was also influenced by Rosencreutz, whose symbolism can be retraced in much of her art.

At the age of 60, she also found an interest in anthroposophy. She knew Rudolf Steiner personally from his time as a theosophy. In the 1920's and 1930's, she spent periods of time at the Anthroposophical Society headquarters in Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

Hak1, Grupp 1, Urkaos nr 1, 1906. 53x37cm, oil on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm Hak1, Group 1, Primordial Chaos nr 1, 1906. 53x37cm, oil on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

”The Five” (1896-1906)

In 1896, af Klint, together with four other female artists founded a group called "The Five". They met every Friday for their spiritual meetings when they channelled their writing and drawing. They also kept a register of all messages they received from the spirits, that they called "The High Ones".

With time, Hilma af Klint felt increasingly elected among the members of the group. After ten years of esoteric exercising, af Klint accepted, at an age of 43, an assignment from "The High Ones". She was to execute the "Paintings for the Temple". This work, which occupied her between 1906 and 1915, would change her life.

HaK1519_s6, page 4 Automatic drawing 1903 © The Hilma af Klints Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

”Paintings for the Temple” (1906-1915)

”Paintings for the Temple” is composed of 193 paintings, methodologically organised into a number of series and sub-groups. Hilma af Klint experienced an artistic revolution; without any gradual changeover, she all of a sudden turned from a traditional way of painting to a completely unique non-figurative style and quickly produces a large amount of giant, colourful paintings saturated with symbols.

HaK103, Grupp 4, nr. 2, De tio största, Barnaåldern, 1907. 315x234cm, tempera on paper mounted on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK103, Group 4, nr. 2, The Ten Largest, Childhood, 1907. 315x234cm, tempera on paper mounted on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

The beginning of the non-figurative art

There is no evidence that Hilma af Klint would have been a part of, or involved in the abstract art movement developed by her contemporary male artists in Europe. However, her spiritual interests were shared by many of the canonised abstract pioneers such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and František Kupka. They were all inspired by theosophy and spiritualism. Each of them, in their own way, aimed to reach an expression beyond the physical world.

HaK187, Grupp 10, Altarbild nr. 1, 1907. 185x152cm, oil and metal leaves on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK187, Group 10, Altarpiece nr. 1, 1907. 185x152cm, oil and metal leaves on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Self-learning (1916-1920)

When the mission of the "Painting for the Temple" had been executed the spiritual guidance ended. However, Hilma af Klint continued to express the spiritual dimension through her art. Klint projected plants and animals, organisms and matter, in symbolic graphs. The format of these paintings are much smaller than the preceding works, and the imagery and techniques show a great level of diversion.

Hilma af Klint was convinced that reality was not limited to physical dimensions. She believed in a parallel inner world, and that her art mediated messages from there. In order to reach a greater level of insight, af Klint immersed herself in art, philosophy and religion.

 

HaK469, Nr. 2a, Mahatmernas nuvarande ståndpunkt, Serie II, 1920. 36,5x27cm, oil on canvas. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK469, Nr. 2a, The Current Stand Point of the Mahatmas, Series II, 1920. 36,5x27cm, oil on canvas.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

The Period 1921-1941

In 1921, Klint studied Goethe's Theory of Colours that had been metaphrased by Rudolf Steiner. She made no official paintings that year, but the following year she started painting with wet-on-wet watercolour painting. This technique was inspired by anthroposophical art, however, she developed her own style by using black paint, which was considered forbidden in the anthroposophical art movement.

HaK717a, Watercolour serie from Dornach, 1924. 40x50cm, Watercolour on paper. © The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm HaK717a, Watercolour series from Dornach, 1924. 40x50cm, Watercolour on paper.
© The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Photo: Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Testimony

Hilma af Klint has a vision that her word would contribute to influence not only the consciousness of people in general but in its extension also society itself. However, she was convinced that her contemporaries were not ready. Subsequently, she made it clear that her life's work was not to be shown in public until 20 years after her death.

It would take 40 years until her art was first exhibited to the public, with the exhibition "The Spiritual in Art - Abstract Paintings 1890-1985" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1986. Her international breakthrough was immediate and since then, her work has been exhibited in museums around Europe, the United States and Latin America. In 2013 the Modern Museum in Stockholm showed the most comprehensive retrospective exhibition including 230 of Hilma's works.

Hilma af Klint left more than 1200 non-figurative paintings and 124 notebooks behind. Today they are owned and managed by the Hilma af Klint Foundation.

This text was written by Hedvig Ersman, the Hilma af Klint Foundation.

 

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