The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint was a true pioneer in abstract art and is today considered to be the founder of abstract art in Western art history. Hilma af Klint was ahead of her time, and she managed to create a new visual language at the beginning of the 20th century. This was long before other artists started exploring abstraction. Hilma af Klint's story contains spiritualism, a meeting with Rudolf Steiner, and a beautiful legacy.
Hilma af Klint was born on 26th October 1862 at Karlberg Castle, where her father Victor af Klint was a captain in the navy. Hilma was the fourth child in a group of five siblings. During the children's upbringing, the family spent a lot of time in their idyllic summer house located on the Swedish island, Adelsö in Mälaren. The summer house was located in beautiful surroundings, which sparked Hilma's interest and fascination with nature. It would later prove to be a great source of inspiration in her artistic career.
When Hilma af Klint was 17 years old, she participated for the first time in a spiritualist session, where the participants tried to establish contact with the dead. Her interest in the obscure and spiritual became a major source of inspiration. This interest was enforced when her younger sister died at ten years old. At this time, Hilma af Klint attended Technical School in Stockholm, where she had, among other things, an art subject. Her interest in art was growing, and she received lessons in portrait painting alongside her studies.
In the period from 1882-1887, Hilma af Klint attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, where she excelled in portrait and landscape paintings. Hilma was a good student, and at the end of her studies, she received a grant to purchase a studio in Stockholm. In the subsequent period, Hilma af Klint lived by making landscape paintings and portraits. It was not unusual for female artists in Scandinavia to make a living from their art at this time. It was in stark contrast to Germany and France, where it was not well regarded for women to have a career as an artist.
"The five" - a spiritual community
Alongside her studies, Hilma af Klint formed an occult community named "The Five". The community started with four of her friends all of whom were artists. "The Five" was established in 1896.
From 1896 to 1907, the five friends met regularly, and their ceremonies always started with a prayer followed by meditation. The group then analyzed a section from the New Testament and made contact with higher spiritual leaders. Everything the group observed was written down in notebooks.
In this process, Hilma af Klint received a task from the spiritual leaders. The assignment consisted of making the decoration for a temple. The higher spiritual leaders had foreseen that she should make the designs for the temple and then decorate it. As part of the assignment, she had to create 111 paintings over two years. That was equivalent to a new artwork every fifth day. All the paintings were created under the name "Paintings for the Temple".
Hilma af Klint began her work in 1906. She claimed that the paintings were executed directly through her body by higher powers. None of the paintings had sketches but were painted directly on the canvas. She had no idea what the paintings were supposed to represent, but her paintings were executed with a secure hand and no need for corrections.
Most of the paintings were based on shapes from nature, and the ten largest works she painted at this time illustrated the four life stages that man goes through; childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. In 1915 Hilma af Klint completed the paintings for the temple, and the collection consisted of 193 artworks in total.
The meeting with Rudolf Steiner
At the beginning of the 20th century, Hilma af Klint moved in with her mother after her father's death. Hilma af Klint continued to explore her spiritual sides. It would later lead to a meeting with the famous anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.
Rudolf Steiner inspired Hilma af Klint in a new artistic direction. Hilma later invited Rudolf Steiner to Stockholm to inspect her works, but unfortunately, he would not give individual criticism of her work. Instead, Rudolf Steiner advised Hilma not to show her artwork to anyone for the next 50 years.
This advice is today considered to be the source of inspiration for her will. Hilma wrote in her will that the public was not allowed to exhibit her art until 20 years after her death. Furthermore, her artworks were never to be sold separately. At this time, the public was not aware of Hilma's abstract art but only knew her from her landscape paintings and portraits.
The first abstract works
During the "Baltic Exhibition" in 1914, Hilma af Klint's landscape paintings were exhibited. At the same exhibition, the public saw the abstract paintings of the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. What nobody knew at that time was that Hilma af Klint already had made abstract art years ahead. Hilma af Klint preceded Kandinsky, but this would remain unknown until years after her death.
In 1920 Hilma's mother died, and Hilma decided to move to Switzerland. This was where the headquarters of the Anthroposophical movement was located. Hilma af Klint became a close follower of Rudolf Steiner.
During this period, Hilma af Klint also became conscious that the public would not be able to understand her abstract works. She decided to gift all her abstract paintings to her nephew with the message that they should not be available to the public until 20 years after her death.
Hilma af Klint died at the age of 82 in 1944. At this stage, her abstract painting had not yet been available to the public. Today, Hilma is considered a pioneer and the founder of abstract art. Her first abstract work is dated back to 1906, four years ahead of Kandinsky's.
She left a massive collection of over 1,200 drawings, 100 texts, and 26,000 pages of notes. Her works were donated to the Moderna museum in Stockholm in 1970, which initially refused the donation.
Hilma af Klint was introduced to an international audience in the 1980s at an art conference in Finland. But it was not until 2013 that her art took off after the Moderna museum in Stockholm made a big exhibition only with Hilma af Klint's works.
Her decorative works are today found on posters around the world. The colors, shapes, and patterns in her paintings have become well-known symbol for inspiring abstract art. However, many do not yet know the spiritual weight behind Hilma af Klint's works.
A source of inspiration
It is with great admiration for Hilma af Klint's legacy that we founded Klint Care. Klint Care is a Danish lifestyle and skincare brand with a clear mission. We want to support and promote new artists while providing a platform to inspire and delight people. Our medium just happens to be high-quality skincare. The artists' artworks and Klint Care's nourishing ingredients have created a new category within the lifestyle segment. We tear down the art from the wall and re-framed art in a new format. In this way, you can both see and feel the art on your skin. We are redefining the framework for skincare and making it our mission to keep the art alive. You can buy Klint Care products here.
Image: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk