Paintings for the temple

Hilma af Klint

Well, I did that the wrong way round.

During the week I caught an exhibition of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, which I posted about recently. There is an impressive scale to both the show and its constituent works, spreading over two floors in extensive groupings from notebooks to large-scale canvasses, from beautiful botanical studies to enormous abstract works which were not exhibited in her lifetime – nor, indeed, for decades after.

But as innovative as these works were, af Klint wasn’t merely discarding figurative representation on a whim. Her paintings were informed by both spiritualism and spirituality, séances and metaphysical contemplation, by a compulsive need to summon the immaterial world through paint. Af Klint’s largest cycle bore the title Paintings for the Temple: art clearly not meant as mere decoration nor – despite their radical abstraction – primarily concerned with forms in themselves. Her works are thoroughly programmatic but the symbolism is often oblique, meaning that as impressive as they are, viewing them becomes a little like hearing beguiling songs in a foreign language, mystifying as much as they entrance.

So, yes, it would have been better if I had seen the video below (click here if you don’t see it embedded) which goes at least some way to explaining what af Klint was driving at. Iris Müller-Westermann, curator of international art at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, describes one of the most remarkable careers of early 20th century art, only now receiving due recognition.


  1. Thanks James, really interesting work and individual.

  2. rudy d

    thanks for sharing the above video on af Klint, it was enlightening to learn more about this artist. Her work was highlighted in the LACMA show “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Paintings 1890-1985” and catalog, a small sampling. Wish I could get to the Moderna Museet to see what looks like a wonderful exhibition.

  3. Thanks for sharing. The work of this artist is amazing.

  4. Pingback: Secret Satan, 2018 | Strange Flowers

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