Group IX/SUW, No. 8, The Swan, No. 8
The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint was making abstract art before Kandinsky, but her spiritualist methods have undermined her standing in art history.
Hilma af Klint received her calling in 1904. During a séance, a spirit power told the Swedish artist that she was to execute paintings “on the astral plane,” representing man’s transcendental truth rather than mortal likeness.
Af Klint began work on her spirit commission in 1906....
Af Klint graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1887, producing landscapes and portraits in the romantic style popular at the time. However, with the first Primordial Chaos canvas, she entirely abandoned representation in favour of a richly symbolic vocabulary of abstract forms and looping letters. Five years before Kandinsky claimed to have made the first abstract painting, Af Klint’s works – made in near-complete isolation – uncannily anticipate his statement, made in 1912 in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, that painting must communicate, “the internal truth that only art can divine, which only art can express by those means of expression which are hers alone”....
When Af Klint died aged 81, in 1944, none of her esoteric paintings had ever left the studio. She bequeathed everything – over 1,000 paintings and drawings, and 150 books filled with diagrams, sketches and notes – to her nephew Erik, stipulating that nothing be shown until 20 years after her death. In fact it took many more decades, and the work of some enlightened curators, for Af Klint’s art to be acknowledged for what it is: an important chapter in the history of modernism. Her dazzlingly original work can now take its place in an age-old artistic tradition of media in the service of higher messages, which has given us so many of history’s greatest works.
black and whitefemale artistswedishoil on canvasabstract