Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction

Wassily Kandinsky is generally regarded as the pioneer of abstract art. However, a Swedish woman called Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) might claim that title.
When Wassily Kandinsky wrote to his New York gallerist Jerome Neumann in December 1935, he was clearly anxious to reassure him once again that he had painted his first abstract picture in 1911: ‘Indeed, it’s the world’s first ever abstract picture, because back then not one single painter was painting in an abstract style. A “historic painting”, in other words.’ Sadly, this historic painting was thought lost. The artist neglected to take it with him when he left Russia in 1921 for Germany, before later moving to France. He knew the art world was engaged in a contest. To be acknowledged as having produced the first abstract painting had become a highly coveted prize. Which modern artist could claim that prize was still being fought over.
What Kandinsky did not know is that a Swedish painter by the name of Hilma af Klint had created her first abstract painting in her Stockholm studio in 1906, five years before him. What’s more, she had taken the same path towards abstraction. Without knowing of each other’s existence, the two artists seem to have travelled for a long way like two trains on the same tracks. Klint arrived before Kandinsky.
The history of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) is fascinating and unknown to most. It is a story of a female artist on the edge of the establishment – like the subjects of the earlier exhibits Women of the Avant-garde in 2012 and Yoko Ono in 2013 – and thus far she has not attracted much attention in art history. 
Her extensive work was created in a spiritual space of mysticism and other parapsychology movements – similar to what happened with Kandinsky around 1900. Hilma af Klint links inner experience and symbolism together in innovative and pioneering abstract paintings that were never shown publicly in her lifetime, when she exhibited only her figurative images.
Klint was educated at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm (1882-87), specializing in naturalistic landscape and portrait painting. In 1906, at the age of 44, she began to paint abstract and symbolic images, and between the years 1906 and 1915 she created her magnum opus, Paintings for the Temple, consisting of 193 paintings in various series and groups. Collectively they are about conveying the idea that everything beyond the visible world is connected. She began early on to take an interest in the unseen aspects of reality as well, and beginning in 1896 she participated in weekly meetings of a group of women artists called “The Five” with the objective of expanding their spiritual consciousness.

 A fundamental notion for many artists in the 1900s was that art should broaden our sense of reality. Painting was the means by which Hilma af Klint sought insight into a greater context behind the visible world. An interest in the occult and the spiritual was in vogue at the time, but af Klint kept this side of her artistic pursuits hidden from the rest of the world. HOK is pleased to now be raising awareness of these unique works and to contribute to bringing a bit of art history up to date”, concludes Milena Hoegsberg.

A number of Hilma af Klint’s abstract works are structured in series, with dimensions measuring several meters in height and width. It took as many as four men to hang each painting on the wall. In the enormous works that depict the stages of life from birth to death, geometric forms and symbols are combined with the ornamental.