Hilma af Klint: 1862 – 1944
Most people have never heard of Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint. Her story is one of the most intriguing art stories to come out of the 20th Century, and turned the art world upside down. In 1906, after 20 years of artistic works, and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted the first series of abstract paintings. Her paintings were intuitive and an attempt to paint the unknown as she explored both inner and outer worlds. The artistic transition to abstract art of Hilma af Klint would occur without any contacts with the modern movements of this time. A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky and his contemporaries that explored transitioning from traditional art.
Hilma af Klint spent summers with her family at their home on the island of Adelsö in Lake Mälaren. She came into contact with nature at an early stage in her life and this deep association with natural forms was to be an inspiration in her work. She also inherited a great interest in mathematics and botany, elements that are visible in her paintings. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts of Stockholm, where she learned portraiture and landscape painting. This choice was quite controversial at this time, as very few women had access to higher studies in the beginning of the 20th century. She was admitted at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. Inspired by the French Plein Air painters like Monet, she gained recognition for her landscapes, botanical drawings, and portraits, which were a source of financial income. But her 'life's work' remained a quite separate practice. She experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language with symbols, letters and words.
Hilma af Klint never dared to show her abstract work to her contemporaries. More than 1200 paintings and drawings were carefully stored away in her atelier, waiting for the future. In her will, she left all her abstract paintings to her nephew, and specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. When the boxes were opened at the end of the 1960's, very few had knowledge of what would be revealed. In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which declined the donation. Erik af Klint then donated thousands of drawings and paintings to a foundation bearing the artist’s name in the 1970s. Art historian Åke Fant, introduced her work to an international audience when he presented her at a Nordik conference in Helsinki in 1984.The abstract work of Hilma af Klint was shown for the first time at the exhibition "The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890–1985" organized by Maurice Tuchman in Los Angeles in 1986. This exhibition was the starting point of her international recognition.