An exciting new exhibition opens at the Serpentine Galleries in London today of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), who is now regarded as a pioneer of abstract art.
Group X, No. 1. Altarpiece, 1915; Oil and metal leaf on canvas, 237.5 x 179.5 cm; Courtesy of Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk; Photo: Moderna Museet / Stockholm
Her paintings were not seen publicly until 1986, but she was working in the early 20th century pre-dating the first purely abstract paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. Hilma af Klint painted in near isolation from the European avant-garde. Fearing that she would not be understood, she stipulated that her abstract work should be kept out of the public eye for 20 years after her death.
Klint was classically trained but she moved away from this with her membership of an all-female artist group called ‘The Five’. They conducted séances to encounter what they believed to be spirits who wished to communicate via pictures, leading to experiments with automatic writing and drawing, which pre-dated the Surrealists by several decades.
Group IV, No. 3. The Ten Largest, Youth, 1907; Tempera on paper mounted on canvas, 321 x 240 cm; Courtesy of Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk; Photo: Moderna Museet / Stockholm
This Serpentine exhibition focuses primarily on her body of work, The Paintings for the Temple, which dates from 1906–15. In 1905 Klint was ‘commissioned’ from an entity, which the group named Amaliel, to create this most important body of work. Consisting of 193 predominately abstract paintings in various series and subgroups, the artist painted a path towards a harmony between the spiritual and material worlds; good and evil; man and woman; religion and science. This major work charted the influence of science and religion on af Klint’s works, from the discovery of electromagnetic waves to the spiritual teachings of anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was af Klint’s mentor and his presence in her life resulted in the cycle becoming more orderly with depictions of symbols and motifs, such as shells, snakes, lilies and crosses, from his spiritual movement.
Don’t miss this amazing chance to see some of the earliest abstract paintings in western art, and lear more about this unique woman.