(1862 – 1944), Sweden

Hilma af Klint Biography

Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was an artist and medium known for her paintings guided by spiritualism. While her oeuvre was not widely known during her lifetime, posthumous interest in af Klint's life has sparked debate as to whether or not she may have been Europe's first abstract artist.

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Early Years

af Klint was born in Stockholm in 1862 to a naval family from whom she inherited keen interests in science and mathematics. In the 1880s, she studied at the city's Royal Academy of Fine Arts as one of the first classes that accepted female students. After graduating with honours in 1887, af Klint was awarded studio space in the city where she continued painting.

Hilma af Klimt Artworks

For a short time, Hilma af Klint's studio paintings resembled the traditional landscapes and portraiture she studied in school. Before long, however, they began to take a turn as her interest in spiritualism developed.

Following her younger sister's death in the 1880s, af Klint became deeply invested in making contact with the spirit realm. In 1986, along with four other female artists, af Klint formed the group 'the Five' (de Fem) with whom she conducted seances and made automatic writings and drawings in response to their interactions with higher energies—years before Surrealists took up a similar practice.

The Paintings for the Temple (1906–15)

Soon after, af Klint began seeing her paintings as 'mediumistic' and cited instructions from a High Master spirit as the source of her artistic inspiration. Between 1906 and 1915, af Klint made 193 non-objective paintings defined by their geometric shapes, graphic colours, symbolism and diagrammatic compositions. In what came to be known as 'The Paintings of the Temple', circles, helixes and other geometric shapes represent masculine and feminine energies and various phases of life. With their hard lines, bold hues and lack of figuration, the works are undeniably modern for their time. Notably, af Klint began making such works five years before Wassily Kandinsky has been credited for creating the first abstract picture in 1911.

Throughout her career, af Klint filled notebooks detailing her paintings and their purpose. She did not show her work widely, and after completing The Paintings for the Temple, af Klint's spiritual guidance came to an end. Fearing that her work be misunderstood, she stipulated that it not be shown until 20 years following her death. When she died in 1944 at the age of 81, her paintings and notebooks were entrusted in the care of a nephew. As such, af Klint's output was largely unseen until 1986, when her work was included in the show The Spiritual in Art – Abstract Paintings 1890–1985 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Exhibitions and Accolades

In 2013, the Hilma af Klint Foundation collaborated with Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm to stage the first in-depth af Klint retrospective, which featured a collection of approximately 230 paintings.

In 2019, the Guggenheim in New York staged the massive retrospective Paintings for the Future, which broke visitor records and required the extension of public opening hours. In 2021, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney staged the exhibition Hilma af Klint: Secret Paintings, and the show then went onto to travel to Wellington's City Gallery.

In 2019, a documentary about af Klint's work titled Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint was released by Zeitgeist Films release in association with Kino Lorber.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2021

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