Hilma af Klint  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862– October 21, 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were amongst the first abstract art. She belonged to a group called "The Five" (a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called 'high masters' - often by way of séances) and her paintings, which sometimes resembled diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.


Early life

The fourth child of Captain Victor af Klint, a Swedish naval commander, and Mathilda af Klint (née Sonntag), Hilma af Klint spent summers with her family at their farm Hanmora on the island of Adelsö in Lake Mälaren. In these idyllic surroundings Hilma 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. From her father she adopted an interest in mathematics.

In 1880 her younger sister Hermina died and it was at this time that the spiritual dimension of her life began to develop.

She showed an early ability in visual art and after the family had moved to Stockholm she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts for five years during which time she learned portraiture and landscape painting . Here she met Anna Cassel, the first of the four women with whom she later worked in "The Five" (de fem), a group of artists who shared her ideas. Her more conventional painting became the source of her financial income while the 'life's work' remained a quite separate practice.

Spiritual and philosophical ideas

The project on which "The Five" were engaged involved, in 1892, recording in a book a completely new system of mystical thought in the form of messages from higher spirits. One, Gregor, spoke thus: "all the knowledge that is not of the senses, not of the intellect, not of the heart but is the property that exclusively belongs to the deepest aspect of your being...the knowledge of your spirit".

Hilma af Klint's work ran parallel to the development of abstract art by other artists such as Mondrian, Malevich and Kandinsky who were, like af Klint, inspired by the Theosophical Movement founded by Madame Blavatsky. Af Klint's work can be understood in the wider context of the modernist search for new forms in artistic, spiritual, political and scientific systems at the beginnings of the 20th century.


Through her work with the group "The Five" af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualising invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. Quite apart from their diagrammatic purpose the paintings have a freshness and a modern aesthetic of tentative line and hastily captured image: a segmented circle, a helix bisected and divided into a spectrum of lightly painted colours. She continued prolifically to add to the body of work amounting to over 1000 pieces until 1941. She requested that it should not be shown until 20 years after the end of her life. In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which declined the donation. Thanks to the art historian Åke Fant her art was introduced to an international audience in the 1980s. He first presented her at a Nordik conference in Helsinki in 1984, and then wrote a catalog entry to the 1986 exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The spiritual in art: abstract painting 1890-1985. organized by Maurice Tuchman. In 2005-2006 her work was shown in some major museums in the exhibition 3 x Abstraction curated by Catherine de Zegher, together with artists Agnes Martin and Emma Kunz.


  • 3 x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing, The Drawing Center, New York; Santa Monica Museum of Art; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2005–2006
  • An Atom in the Universe, Camden Arts Centre, 2006
  • The Alpine Cathedral and The City-Crown, Josiah McElheny. Moderna Muséet, Stockholm, Sweden. Dec. 1 2007 – March 31, 2008 (represented by 14 paintings)
  • The Message. The Medium as artist - Das Medium als Künstler Museum in Bochum, Germany. February 16 – April 13, 2008 (represented by 4 paintings)
  • Traces du Sacré Centre Pompidou, Paris. May 7 – August 11, 2008. (represented by 7 paintings)
  • Hilma af Klint – Une modernité rélévée Centre Culturel Suédois, Paris. April – August 2008 (represented by 59 paintings)
  • Traces du Sacré Haus der Kunst, Munich. September 18, 2008 – January 11, 2009
  • De geheime schilderijen van Hilma af Klint, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem. March 7, 2010 - May 30, 2010
  • "Hilma af Klint – a Pioneer of Abstraction" was produced by and showed at Moderna Museet in Stockholm Sweden from February 16 until May 26, 2013, before touring to Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin from June 15 to October 6, and Museo Picasso Málaga from October 21, 2013 to February 9, 2014.
  • Works by af Klint was exhibited at the Central Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennial from June 1 to November 24, 2013.


  • Hilma af Klint, Raster Förlag, Stockholm. Swedish text about 100 pictures. ISBN 91-87214-08-3
  • Vägen till templet, Rosengårdens Förlag. Swedish text, 30 sketches. Describes the teaching period to become a medium. ISBN 91-972883-0-6
  • Enheten bortom mångfalden, Rosengårdens Förlag. Swedish text, 32 pictures. Two parts, one philosophical and one art-scientific. ISBN 91-972883-4-9
  • I describe the way and meanwhile I am proceeding along it, Rosengårdens Förlag. A short introduction in English with 3 pictures. ISBN 91-972883-2-2
  • Hilma af Klint, The greatness of things The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin. English text, 23 images. ISBN 0-907660-99-1
  • The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890-1985, publ. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986
  • Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher (eds.) 3 X Abstraction, Yale University Press and The Drawing Center, NY, 2005
  • Åke Fant: Okkultismus und Abstraktion, die Malerin Hilma af Klint. Albertina, Wien 1992, ISBN 3-900656-17-7.
  • John Hutchinson (Hrsg.): Hilma af Klint, the Greatness of Things. Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin 2005, ISBN 0-907660-99-1.
  • The Message. Art and Occultism. With an Essay by André Breton. Hrsg. v. Claudia Dichter, Hans Günter Golinski, Michael Krajewski, Susanne Zander. Kunstmuseum Bochum. Walther König: Köln 2007, ISBN 978-3-86560-342-5.

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