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Artist in Focus : Hilma Klint

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Hilma Klint, a lesser known Swedish Abstractionist, whose work predates other artists for this genre.

Hilma Klint was a mystic, and her art was deeply informed by her spiritualism. It can be said that Klint developed an interest in spiritualism at the age of 18. The incident was connected to the loss of her younger sister.

Many years later she became a student of Theosophy and the Anthroposophical Society. Hilma visited the Anthroposophical Society headquarters in Switzerland several times throughout the 1920s.

It can be safely sad that her isolation from the rest of the modernist art movement propelled her spiritualism to be the defining driver of her work.

An Idyllic Life with Some Difficulties

Hilma af Klint graduated with honors, from the The Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm. She  was awarded a scholarship in the form of a studio in the so called “Atelier Building” (Ateljébyggnaden). This was also the main cultural hub in the Swedish capital at that time.

Blanchs Café and Blanchs Art Gallery  were located in the same building. It was the place for many debates and discussions. Generally over the conventional art view of the Academy of Fine Arts, and the oppositional Art Society (Konstnärsförbundet), inspired by the French En Plein Air painters.

Hilma af Klint worked in this studio until 1908. After this Hilma moved to her home in order to take care of her blind mother. Having lost her sister, Hilma was extremely dutiful and caring towards her family.

Gladly she restrained her freedom and independence during these years in order to assist her sick mother. There were several events that were driving her art.

Hilma af Klint is said to have had an affair with a certain Dr Helleday, in her youth, but as this didn’t result in anything, she decided to remain unmarried all her life.

Hilma af Klint inaugurated her new studio at Munsö, In 1917 close to Adelsö, where her family had a mansion. After her mother had passed away in 1920, she moved to Helsingborg in the South of Sweden. 

Closer To Her Art

Hilma af Klint was in search of spiritual insight, Like many of her contemporaries at the turn of last century. She participated in spiritistic séances as a teenager, but gave them up due to their lack of seriousness.

Hilma af Klint was a member of the Edelweiss Society briefly, in her thirties. The Rosicrucian Order also constituted a major source of inspiration for her. Above all, her involvement with the Theosophical Society, dated to the time that the society was formed. She became interested in anthroposophy, in her sixties.

Hilma af Klint and four other like-minded female artists left the Edelweiss Society and founded the “Friday Group”, also called “The Five” in 1896.

The society met every Friday. The meetings were spiritual in nature, which started with prayers, studies of the New Testament and meditation, followed by spiritual séances. The practice of automatic writings and mediumistic drawings were not uncommon.

The small group progressively made contact with spiritual beings, whom they called “The High Ones” (De Höga). They started taking meticulous notes of the mediumistic messages that the spirits conveyed to them in 1896.

After ten years of esoteric training within the frame of “The Five”, and at the age of 43, Hilma af Klint accepted to carry out a major assignment, the “Paintings for the Temple”. This commission would change the course of her life, in which she would be engaged between 1906 and 1915.

The collection “Paintings for the Temple” encompasses 193 paintings, with several subdivisions. It is one of the very first known pieces of abstract art in the Western world, and it predates the first non-figurative compositions of her contemporaries in Europe.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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