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Imagine if they had met!

 

Her path from being a forgotten eccentric to being regarded as an exceptional interpreter of the most radical ideas of her age was long, and hindered by sexist prejudice and a rather narrow view of the concept of art. Today, we know that Hilma af Klint worked and participated in a particular intellectual movement, and that there were like-minded thinkers all across Europe. Some of her closest companions were women – De fem (“The Five”) – a group who met once a week for learned conversation and seances, but she also had close ties to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy.

There were others who she never met in person, but who pursued more or less the same queries as she did, at more or less the same time. Names that have been far more renowned than that of Hilma af Klint, for a long time, but which constitute a spiritual peerage that she is clearly a member of. The common thread here is Theosophy.

 
 Photo: Wassily Kandinsky in his studio (1936).

Photo: Wassily Kandinsky in his studio (1936).

 Photo: Piet Mondrian in his studio (1933).

Photo: Piet Mondrian in his studio (1933).

 Photo: Kazimir Malevich.

Photo: Kazimir Malevich.

 

The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was only a few years younger than Hilma af Klint, and they both passed away the same year. His life, too, took a significant turn as a result of encountering Theosophy. Just as it did for Klint, it provided him with an impetus to abandon depiction in favour of the abstract and nonrepresentational. In 1910, he compiled his thoughts in his famous essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art. How similar were their ideas, really? Kandinsky actually lived in Sweden for a while, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. However, they never met. But it’s high time the two of them were brought together in an exhibition.

1944 also marked the passing of another superstar of the abstract: Piet Mondrian (1872–1944). In 1909, he joined the Dutch Section of the Theosophical Society, and it is said that he kept a portrait of Madame Blavatsky (who co-founded the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875) in his studio. He was fascinated by a cosmic harmony, which was to be expressed by the interplay of various abstract elements that represented absolute truth and beauty. These elements, or “vibrations of energy,” were either masculine or feminine in nature, and were represented by vertical or horizontal lines, respectively. Together, they formed a divine unity. Geometric shapes and primary colours would become his signature motifs, and he used them to represent the complex structure of the universe.

Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) is regarded as the great thinker of the Russian avant garde. He began his career as a symbolist, but eventually came into contact with Zaum. This movement was founded by the poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, who wrote the libretto for the notorious futurist opera Victory Over the Sun and was also the originator of the ideas concerning time and space that were written down by the Russian Theosophist P. D. Ouspensky. In time, Malevich’s work began to address a fourth dimension of space, and in his Suprematist works, form was eventually dissolved into sacred geometry and absolute “nothingness.” Malevich’s visionary refusal to compromise and his firm conviction that art would change the world at its core are both personality traits that place him very close to Hilma af Klint. Who knows what would have happened if they had actually met?

 
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