Was the artist communicating beyond the grave?

Hilma af Klint’s paintings were diagrams and abstractions of ideas. She did not allow them to be seen until twenty years after her death.

The change in her artistic style came about because she had gotten interested in the fad of spiritualism.

There have been recent rumblings and whispers in the art world.  A new artist has been coming under close critical scrutiny.  Could her work be eclipsing the work of greats that have prominent places in art history textbooks?  This possibility is unusual enough by itself, but what is more unusual is the way in which the brilliant work was conceived.

This mysterious new artist is not a new artist after all, but an old unknown artist, Hilma af Klint, born in 1862 in rural Sweden.  She received actual art training when her family moved from the countryside to Stockholm.  She graduated in 1908 and was able to set up a studio in central Stockholm.  Her first work was in naturalist landscapes.  Then, a metamorphosis began to take place.

Portrait of Hilma af Klint

The change in her artistic style came about because she had gotten interested in the fad of spiritualism.  She attended séances with a passion.  She soon affiliated herself with four other female artists who attended the séances and they formed an artistic spiritual group, calling themselves The Five.

What made themselves so unusual is that they actually believed that long-dead masters of the art world were communicating with them from beyond.  The Five kept detailed notes on what the high masters were telling them.  

At this same time, Hilma became adept at automatic writing.  Before long, the automatic writing included automatic drawing, all dictated from beyond.  Hilma wanted to free herself from learned constraints and allow her art to be spontaneous.  This required going on a journey inward.  During the séances, Hilma met an entity named Amaliel who told her to “paint on an astral plane and depict the immortal aspects of man.”

Her voyage into spiritualism resulted in 193 spectacular paintings rendered between 1906 and 1915.  These she called her Paintings for the Temple—a meaning known only to her séance companions.

Her pioneering work preceded the work of famous surrealists and abstract painters by years, even decades.  She did not want fame for her work in her lifetime.  Hilma af Klint dictated that her work and notes would not be shown until twenty years after her death.  Perhaps that is the reason for her work to be so late in being known and appreciated.  Most now agree that she was “the first European abstract painter.”  

She died in 1944 at eighty-one years of age.  Among her works were 1,200 paintings and 26,000 pages of notes.  Twenty years after her death passed, and then it was another twenty-two years before her work was shown in public—a show in Los Angeles, The Spiritual Art.

She never received the recognition of her peers, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Wassily, and Malevich.  She had even been advised by an artist friend, Rudolf Steiner, to not let anyone see her paintings for fifty years because no one would understand them until that much time had gone by.

Well, people have now seen them, some important people understand them, and many more adore them.

Paintings for the Future is the title of the Hilma af Klint exhibit currently at the Guggenheim.  The large striking works, many with pastel hues, will remain there until April 23, 2019.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon.

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