...“Hilma is a disturbing artist,” she responds excitedly. “We ask: what does it mean? Do we rewrite art history? Can we get away with saying she is an outsider? Can we put her in a box? Hilma was no layman, she was a trained and talented artist who knew about colour and composition.” She adds: “Creativity is bigger than art history. Hilma is like Leonardo – she wanted to understand who we are as human beings in the cosmos.” For Müller-Westermann, Af Klint is as important to Sweden as Münch to Norway.
Is it said that Hilma first become interested in the occult after the death of her 10-year-old sister Hermina. At 18, she helped her poor sister accept she was dying of flu. But Müller-Westermann sees this as too narrow a way in. Hilma was “mathematical, scientific, musical – curious”. Spiritualism, she reminds us, was more intellectually respectable then. Yeats, Mahler, Mondrian, Kandinsky – all were in its thrall. The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Anthroposophy by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1912 – Hilma engaged with both. Müller-Westermann explains: “You have to understand this was the age when natural sciences went beyond the visible: Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves , Wilhelm Röntgen invented the x-ray .” (With pleasing serendipity, the news about the proof of gravitational waves breaks while I am in Sweden – how Af Klint would have loved that.)
It is tempting to tell her story from a feminist point of view – but she was no feminist, and the truth is that she was better off as a female artist in Scandinavia (where they were permitted to work alongside men) than she would have been elsewhere in Europe. Having said that, Müller-Westermann is lightly contemptuous of her male counterparts: “Kandinsky was a super-smart lawyer who knew how to sell himself. It was all about ego. Men say: ‘Things come to me – I’m a genius.’ Hilma was more humble. For 10 years, she trained. She felt ready to trust in something she could not explain. She was about something bigger than ego. She had to ask: do I dare do this?”...