Hilma af Klint: The Swedish mystic is considered the true pioneer of abstract art | art and design

FFew people have heard of Hilma af Klint, let alone seen hundreds of paintings and drawings by the Swedish artist in the 20th century. The art establishment ignored her and hardly ever sold a single work.

Photograph of Hilma F. Klint c1901.
Photograph of Hilma F. Klint c1901. Photography: Alami

Now, nearly 80 years after her death, she is an exotic who has found recognition as an artist with a vision, and a leading star of abstract art. A seven-volume study and biography will be published this month, Tate Modern She plans the 2023 show and the Academy Award-nominated director has made a major movie about it, with a cast that includes Lily Cole.

As a clairvoyant and mystic, Af Klint believed that her extracts were drawn under the supervision of higher spirits and that the world was not quite ready for her radical art, but she probably never expected such posthumous acclaim.

I’ve developed a vocabulary of triangles, squares, circles, and spirals before Wassily KandinskyAnd the Piet Mondrian And the Kazimir Malevich They declared themselves inventors of abstraction. While Kandinsky claimed to have created the first abstract painting in 1911, Af Klint had actually beaten him in 1906. Like Mondrian and Kandinsky, she died in 1944.

Interest in her work grew after a 2016 show at Serpentine Exhibition In London, which moved to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where it broke attendance records by about 600,000 visitors.

Daniel Birnbaum, Serpentine Edition coordinator, told observer: “It was the best show in the history of that institution – this artist whose work had not been exhibited during her lifetime. She forced art historians to rewrite the history of art. An artist who turned out to be an abstract pioneer before Kandinsky and someone who did not have the entire entourage of collectors, museum directors, galleries The show, and the whole lobby we’re used to.”

The Big Ten, No. 4 (1907) by Hilma F Klint.
The Big Ten, No. 4 (1907) by Hilma F Klint. Photography: Alami

Born in Stockholm in 1862, Af Klint studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, graduating with honors in 1887, moving away from traditional portrait painting, landscape and botanical studies.

Birnbaum said, “Obviously she wanted to showcase her work, but she didn’t get support. The only places I showed her were in very specialized, esoteric circles.” But he believes she has lost interest in selling: “She saw her art as a spiritual message to humanity. She had much greater ambitions.”

She found inspiration in mysticism, spirituality, philosophy and anthropology. She attended spiritual gatherings with four female friends – in a group calling themselves “The Five” – ​​to explore spiritual realms through meditation and spirits sessions. Believing they could communicate with mystical beings, they transcribed their messages through mechanical writing and drawing, experiences that preceded the Surrealists by decades.

Birnbaum said that Theosophy and anthropology “seem strange and unsettled today” but were in vogue then: “These modes of spiritual engagement were part of the zeitgeist, and popular in artistic circles across EuropePeople sought to reconcile religious beliefs with scientific progress and with a new awareness of the pluralism of religions.

Dove No. 2 (1915) by Hilma F Klint.
Dove No. 2 (1915) by Hilma F Klint. Photography: Alami

He noted that she “found abstract forces in nature” and while working on series – it was never about individual paintings – she had an unfulfilled dream of building her own temple, an edifice but perhaps also an inner temple. “Everything has to do with her interest in Theosophy and Anthropology…It aims to show higher visible truths and not things we see with our physical eyes.”

For famous artists, searching a catalog index, a definitive study of their works, is a complex task as their works are spread all over the world. Since Af Klint has sold hardly anything, nearly all of her 1,500 paintings and drawings are in one place, in Stockholm, and are kept together by a foundation set up by a family member.

Birnbaum, who co-edited the index“It’s strange that an organization owns 99% of everything,” he said. Only a small percentage have been seen so far.

As the former director of the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, he said, “If Oslo has the Munch Museum, why doesn’t Stockholm have the Hilma af Klint Museum? I hope so.”

A new biography of Hilma F Klint written by German art historian Julia Voss has been published, while a film written and directed by Academy Award-nominated Swedish director Lacey Hallström, will be released in the UK later this month.

titled HilmaThe film is an English-language biopic about an artist who sees the world differently and embarks on an “unwavering search for truth about humanity and the universe at a time when men made all the rules”. The director’s daughter, Tora Hallström, plays the young Hilma, and Lena Olin plays an older version. early 2023, The film will also be available on Viaplay UK, Viaplay’s new streaming service.

Lily Cole portrays one of Hilma’s friends. Cole told observer: “I have had the pleasure of participating in this production, and of exploring the stories of these wonderful women…I am glad that Hilma’s work has finally received the recognition it deserves.”

This article was modified on October 16, 2022 to clarify that Daniel Birnbaum curated the Serpentine exhibition of Hilma af Klint’s work, not the show at the Guggenheim as the previous version might suggest.

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