Hilma af Klint belonged to one of the first generations of women to receive a higher education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Kungl. Konstakademien) in Stockholm. She was accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of twenty. During the years 1882-1887 she studied there, she was mainly drawing, and portrait- and landscape painting. Klint graduated with honors, and was awarded a scholarship in the form of a studio in the so called “Atelier Building” (Ateljébyggnaden), owned by The Academy of Fine Arts, in the crossing between Hamngatan and Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm. This was the main cultural hub in the Swedish capital at that time. The same building also held Blanchs Café and Blanchs Art Gallery, where the conflict stood between the conventional art view of the Academy of Fine Arts, and the opposition movement of the Art Society (Konstnärsförbundet), inspired by the French En Plein Air painters.
Hilma worked in this studio until 1908, when she had to move in order to take care of her blind mother. She would dutifully restrain her freedom and independence during several years in order to assist her sick mother. In her youth, Klint is said to have had an amorous affair with a certain Dr Helleday, but as this didn’t result in anything, she decided to remain unmarried all her life. In 1917 Klint inaugurated her new studio at Munsö, close to Adelsö, an island in the lake Mälaren not far from Stockholm, where the family had a mansion. After her mother had passed away in 1920, she moved to Helsingborg in the South of Sweden. From 1935 she lived in Lund. Nine years later, when she was more than 80 years old, Klint moved back up to Stockholm, where she stayed in the house of her cousin, Hedvig af Klint in Ösby, Djursholm.
Hilma af Klint died in the autumn of 1944, at nearly 82 years old, following a traffic accident.
Like many of her contemporaries at the turn of last century, Klint was in search of spiritual insight. As a teenager she participated in spiritistic séances, but gave them up due to their lack of seriousness. In her thirties, Klint was a member of the Edelweiss Society for a short while. The Rosicrucian Order also constituted a major source of inspiration for her. Above all, Klint was heavily involved in the Theosophical Society, of which she was member from the very start in Sweden in 1889. In her sixties, she also became interested in anthroposophy.
In 1896 Klint and four other like-minded female artists left the Edelweiss Society and founded the “Friday Group”, also called “The Five”. They met every Friday for spiritual meetings, which started with prayers, studies of the New Testament and meditation, followed by spiritual séances. The medium exercised automatic writings and mediumistic drawings. They progressively made contact with spiritual beings, whom they called “The High Ones” (De Höga). In 1896, the five women started taking meticulous notes of the mediumistic messages that the spirits conveyed to them. With time, Klint felt herself selected for the more important messages. After ten years of esoteric training within the frame of “The Five”, and at the age of 43, Hilma af Klint accepted to carry out a major assignment, the “Paintings for the Temple”. This commission, in which she would be engaged between 1906 and 1915, would change the course of her life.
Hilma af Klint artworkThe collection “Paintings for the Temple” encompasses 193 paintings, subdivided into several series and sub-groups. It is one of the very first pieces of abstract art in the Western world, as it predates with several years the first non-figurative compositions of her contemporaries in Europe.
Klint shared an interest in the spiritual with the other contemporary pioneers in abstract art: Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and František Kupka among others. They all wished to surpass the restrictions of the physical world. Not surprisingly, many were drawn to Theosophy, as its ideas proposed an attractive alternative to the very static principles of the academic art. The abstract, non-figurative art opened up a radically new means of expression. Rather than depicting a mere visual impression, they aimed at finding a new path, reaching for a spiritual reality. Each one of them found his, or her, own personal way into abstract painting.
There is no evidence that Klint was involved in the abstract movement of her male contemporary colleagues, nor that she participated in the development of early Modernism in Central and Western Europe. Nevertheless, she invented a similar, non-representational aesthetics. The contact with spiritual guides, who both inspired her and communicated with her, were for Klint as real as the impressions given by the five physical senses. By visualizing inner processes and experiences, and by describing these as concretely and precisely as possible, she proceeded to develop a very personal expression.
Hilma was convinced that reality is not confined to the mere physical world; she was convinced that in parallel with the material world lies an inner one, and that the contents of the inner dimensions are exactly as true and real as are those of the outer one. In order to convey this message, Hilma af Klint made use of symbols, letters and words. By means of employing dualistic symbols, Hilma af Klint expressed that “Everything is Unity”.