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HILMA AF KLINT: Artist with a Message


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Hilma af Klint was born in 1862, the fourth child of Mathilda and Swedish naval commander Captain Victor af Klint. She spent her early summers at their manor house on an island in Lake Malaren. This may be why she developed an interest in botany and the visual arts as well as mathematics.

After her family moved to Stockholm, she studied art at Tekniska skolan (Konstfack today) and was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. After graduating with honors, she received a scholarship to use a studio at the “Atelier Building” owned by The Academy of Fine Arts. She was recognized for and sold her landscapes, botanical drawings, and portraits. Her tone, texture, and spiritual temperament were compared to the British Romantic painter and poet William Blake, but her “life’s work” would remain out of view of most people.

When Hilma’s younger sister died in 1880, Hilma’s interest in spiritism grew. She followed Theosophy founded by Madame Blavatsky and met Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society. She spent hours at the society’s headquarters and Steiner’s theories regarding the Arts influenced her subsequent works.

In 1896, Hilma co-founded “The Five,” a group of women artists inspired by Theosophy who aspired to contact the “High Masters” during seances.  They met every Friday for spiritual meetings which included prayers, New Testament studies, meditation, and séances. They took copious notes on the messages which they received from mediums via automatic writing and mediumistic drawings.

It was during this time that Hilma’s paintings evolved into diagrams of complex spiritual ideas. Her abstracts were the first of their kind, predating the famous pioneers of abstract art. They were composed of spirals, mystical geometric shapes and colors which were symbols rather than objects.  Her art was a message. A way to see the unseen.

After ten years with the “The Five,” Hilma accepted a major assignment from a spirit guide. She began The Paintings for the Temple, a collection of 193 abstracts that were a message from the spirit world. They took from 1906 to 1915 to complete.

Hilma continued with her spiritual abstracts. On her death in 1944, she left more than 1,300 works and 125 notebooks that had only been seen by a few people. She stipulated that her work not be publicly displayed until 20 years after her death. She also expressed her desire that the Paintings for the Temple should be kept together. Today, Hilma’s work is owned and administered by The Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

Klint Foundation

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Klint, Hilma af (2018). Hilma af Klint : Notes and Methods. The University of Chicago Press. 

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