Hilma af Klint 2013 exhibition at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Photo: Åsa Lundén / Museum of Modern Art Stockholm Hilma af Klint 2013 exhibition at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Photo: Åsa Lundén / Museum of Modern Art Stockholm

The first abstract modernist, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a visionary painter whose imaginative works predate her famous contemporaries, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay and Piet Mondrian. This autumn, her retrospective – and first solo show in the United States – is coming to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from 12 October 2018 to 9 February 2019.

Hilma af Klint, 'Savanen nr 17' Hilma af Klint, 'Svanen nr 17'

Born in 1862 in Stockholm, Sweden, af Klint was educated in the classical tradition and was well known for her portraits and landscapes. A later interest in spirituality inspired her to compose canvases that were infused with geometric forms, vivid colours and dramatic patterns.

Her striking artwork expresses a vision of non-figurative art that was ahead of her time and establishes her as a pioneer of abstract art.

At the beginning of her abstract period, af Klint was part of a group called 'The Five' – five female artists who delved into spirituality to influence their art. Later, her art reflected the tenets of theosophy and anthroposophy, religious systems of transcending the physical world to reach a higher form of enlightenment. Unsure of how these paintings would be received or understood, af Klint did not display them and even requested that they not be made public until 20 years after her death.

Learn more about the works and background of Hilma af Klint here

Hilma af Klint in her studio, c. 1895. Photo: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk Hilma af Klint in her studio, c. 1895. Photo: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

It was not until 1986 when af Klint's abstract compositions came into the public sphere with the inclusion of her works in a Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) exhibit. Critics immediately drew parallels with the works of famous 20th century modernists; however, she began these abstract artworks in 1906, before the modernist movement took hold in the rest of Europe.

Today, all 1300 of her radical abstract works along with her sketchbooks and notebooks are owned by the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm and are loaned to exhibitions across the world.

Hilma af Klint, 'Altarpiece'. Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström Hilma af Klint, 'Altarpiece'. Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

The majority of the 168 paintings included in this Guggenheim exhibition are part of the 'Painting for the Temple' series, composed between 1905 and 1916, which af Klint designed especially for "a turning building, which is in permanent movement and nevertheless at rest." The Guggenheim's spherical shape echoes this concept and thus fittingly is the host of af Klint's first retrospective in the United States.

The 'Painting for the Temple' series are emblematic of her abstract period, which incorporate geometrics shapes, curlicues, and abstracted versions of recognisable symbols, such as shells, flowers and birds that hold deeper meanings (for example the snail shell represents evolution, a lily, femininity and the dove, love).

Interior of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Interior of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

As af Klint's work has become increasingly included in the modern art canon, she can be considered the first abstract artist who embraced the concept of non-figurative depictions using a vibrant colour palette. Her experimental compositions have marked her, in retrospect, as an early founder of the 20th-century modernist movement and one of the most innovative female artists in history.

28 October: it's not to be missed.

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