Birthday: October 26, 1862
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born Country: Sweden
Born in: Karlberg Palace, Solna, Sweden
Famous as: Painter
father: Captain Victor af Klint
mother: Mathilda af Klint (née Sonntag)
siblings: Hermina af Klint
Died on: October 21, 1944
place of death: Djursholm
education: Konstfack - University of Arts, Crafts and Design
Who was Hilma af Klint?
Hilma af Klint was a well-known Swedish painter and a spiritualist, best known for her ‘Temple’ paintings. Raised in Stockholm in the late nineteenth century, she inherited a deep interest in botany from her family, which was further sharpened by her summer trips to the family manors. Very soon, she became keen both in visual art and in spiritualism and began attending séances from the age of seventeen. At thirty-four, she formed ‘De Fem’ with Anna Cassel, Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman, and Mathilda Nilsson in order to establish contact with the world of spirits, eventually being able to make contact with the “High Masters”. It was through these séances that she was first introduced to automatic drawing. Quickly, she began experimenting with that, inventing a geometric visual language that slowly developed into what we now call abstract art. Although she did not receive her due recognition during her lifetime, she is now considered one among the first abstract artists.
Childhood & Early Years
Hilma af Klint was born on October 26, 1862, at Karlberg Palace, located near Stockholm, Sweden.
Her father Fredrik Viktor af Klint was a naval commander and a mathematician. At the time of her birth, he was based at Karlberg Palace, which housed the Swedish Military Academy. Her mother’s name was Andréetta Mathilda af Klint (née Sonntag).
Born the fourth of her parents’ five children, she had one elder brother named Gustaf af Klint and two elder sisters, Anna af Klint and Ida Haverman. Younger to her was Hermina af Klint.
She spent her childhood in Stockholm, where she attended Normalskolan för flickor (General School for Girls). The summers were spent in the family manors on the island of Adelsö. There, she came in close contact with nature, which left a lasting impact on her.
By 1879, she had grown a very strong interest in spiritualism and had started attending séances and mystical group meetings which tried to make contact with the "High Masters". Her interest in it became more intense when in the following year her younger sister Hermina died.
In 1880, she entered Tekniska Skolan (University of Arts, Crafts and Design), where she studied portraiture and landscape painting. Thereafter in 1882, she enrolled at the Kungl. Konstakademien (Royal Academy of Fine Arts), where she studied classical paintings for five years, graduating with honors in 1887.
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Painting & Occultism
In 1887, Hilma af Klint was awarded a scholarship in the form of studio space in the Ateljéhuset (Atelier Building) in Stockholm, where she began her work. Very soon, she became known for her portraits, landscapes, and botanical drawings and was able to maintain herself with their sales proceeds.
Concurrently with painting, she pursued her interest in spiritualism, joining European Federation of the Theosophical Society in 1889 and the Swedish ecumenical association, Edelweiss Society, in 1896. Not satisfied with its working, she left the group within a year, forming De Fem (The Five) with four other members.
From 1896 till 1907, the group met every Friday, holding séances, making contact with spirits and spiritual leaders through a medium, which was generally her. Soon, they began to receive messages from higher spirits and the exchange was expressed mainly through mediumistic writings and automatic drawings.
In 1900, she began working as a draughtsperson for the Veterinary Institute, possibly to be able to live near and take care of her recently widowed mother, remaining with it till 1901. Concurrently, she continued with holding séances, receiving instructions from the higher spirits they called “The High Ones” (De Höga).
In 1904, she was instructed to create paintings for the ‘Temple’. Initially, she did not understand what was required of her, but later she realized that she was commissioned to create paintings on astral planes. Therefore, she spent 1905 preparing herself for the commission, guided in this mission by the spirit “Amaliel”.
Paintings for the Temple
In 1906, Hilma af Klint painted her first series of abstract works, producing twenty-six paintings, which constitute the first group of the ‘Paintings for the Temple’. From 1907 to 1908, she produced one hundred and eleven more such pieces.
In 1908, she met Rudolf Steiner, the noted Austrian philosopher, and showed her paintings to him. When he failed to appreciate them, Klint realized that the time was not yet ripe and decided to take a break for four years.
From 1908 to 1912, she refrained from painting, spending her time studying philosophy and taking care of her blind mother. Then in 1912, she rented a villa on the island Munsö and resumed her work on the ‘Paintings for the Temple’, producing eighty-two more pieces till 1915.
Concurrently with working on her ‘Temple’ paintings, she continued with her spiritual quest, participating in the world congress of the Theosophical Society in Stockholm in 1913. In 1914, she held an exhibition of her naturalistic paintings at the Baltic exhibition in Malmö.
In 1915, Hilma af Klint completed her series of ‘Temple’ paintings, claiming that she had ceased to receive guidance from the High Masters. However, she continued with abstract painting, working on them without any external influence until her mother’s death in 1920.
Her works between 1916 and 1920 include her series on ‘Parsifal’ and ‘Atoms’. During this period, she worked on varied subjects, including religions, plants, animals, lichen, mosses, minerals, precious stones, etc. While her earlier works were mostly in oil, she now began using watercolor. They were also smaller in size.
In 1920, she became a member of the Anthroposophical Society, founded by Rudolf Steiner, making her first trip to its headquarters at Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland, in the same year. Until 1930, she would revisit the center several times, conducting research in their archives.
In 1921-22, she refrained from painting, instead studying Goethe’s ‘Color Theory’ in depth. Thereafter, she resumed working using watercolors, and her works during this period reflected Goethe’s writings. But unfortunately, neither any of her dated works nor any annotation from 1922 to 1930 is available today.
In 1930, she broke with the Anthroposophical Society, never returning to Dornach. But she continued to paint, creating ‘The Blitz over London’ and ‘The Mediterranean Naval Battle’ in 1932. Interestingly, these two incidents would actually occur years later during the Second World War!
Hilma af Klint is best known for her ‘Temple Paintings’, which were created between 1906 and 1915. The collection, consisting of 193 paintings, is grouped in a number of sub-series. Among them, those created in 1907 are the largest, with each measuring approximately 240 x 320 cm.
Family & Personal Life
Hilma af Klint never got married. However, she had two long-term companions, one of them being Anna Cassel, one of De Fem members, and the other being her mother’s nurse, Thomasine Andersson. But it is not known if she had any sexual relation with any of them.
She spent the last year of her life at Djursholm, Sweden. She died there on October 21, 1944, after being involved in a traffic accident, at the age of 81.
At her death, she left 1200 pieces of paintings, giving clear instructions that they should not be published at least for twenty years. In 1986, they were shown for the first time at a Los Angeles exhibition called "The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890–1985", which instantly made her internationally famous.