Apr 28, 2022
Did Wassily Kandinsky really invent abstract art? Randall takes Chris on a journey with many twists and turns.
Topics discussed include:
the first abstract painting
Hilma af Klint
The Ten Largest
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis
the birth of the modern world
1859 -- Georgiana Houghton starts making "spirit" drawings at
1862 -- Hilma af Klint born
1863 -- Salon des Refusés
1871 -- Houghton pays for a show in London
1874 -- Impression, Sunrise by Monet
1875 -- Helena Blavatsky cofounds the Theosophical Society, as "the synthesis of science, religion and philosophy", proclaiming that it was reviving an "Ancient Wisdom" which underlay all the world's religions.
1880 -- Hilma's 10-year-old sister dies, spurring her interest in the occult
1882 -- Hilma af Klint enrolled in Sweden' s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
1884 -- Georgiana Houghton dies
1887 -- Hilma af Klint graduates with honors, awarded use of shared studio until 1909. Here she paints first 100 or so Paintings For the Temple.
1888 -- The Five is founded
1895 -- X-rays discovered
1895 -- Sigmund Freud publishes one of his first books, Studies on Hysteria
1896 -- Radio waves discovered, first radios 1900
1896 -- radioactivity discovered
1896 -- Hilma experiments with automatic drawing. was participating in weekly seances with The Five.
Through her work with The Five, Hilma af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her toward an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualizing invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. She explored world religions, atoms, and the plant world and wrote extensively about her discoveries. As she became more familiar with this form of expression, Hilma af Klint was assigned by the High Masters to create the paintings for the "Temple" – however she never understood what this "Temple" referred to.
Hilma af Klint felt she was being directed by a force that would literally guide her hand. She wrote in her notebook:
The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.
1903 -- Kandinsky paints the Blue Rider
1904 -- Hilma af Klint joins Theosophical society
1904 -- Hilma af Klint was informed by spirit guides a great temple should be built and filled with paintings.
1905 -- Albert Einstein publishes his 4 seminal papers: photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy.
1906 -- Klint begins automatic painting https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/travel/stockholm-hilma-af-klint.html
led by a spiritual guide named Amaliel who contacted af Klint during séances and not only “commissioned” the paintings but, at least at the outset, had, she claimed, directed her hand as she painted.
“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force,” af Klint wrote in one of her journals of the 193 mostly abstract works known as “The Paintings for the Temple,” meditations on human life and relationships in the most elemental terms. “I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict, nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely without changing a single brush stroke.”
Absorbing a wide array of cultural influences old and new – from Goethe’s colour theories to Darwin’s discoveries concerning evolution, from Car Linnaeus’s botanical taxonomies to cutting-edge ideas about atomic matter and radioactivity – Af Klint set about composing for posterity an alluring eye-music that echoed back the complex psyche of her age.
1907 -- De Fem finishes The Ten Largest
1908 -- Hilma meets Rudolf Steiner
In 1908 af Klint met Rudolf Steiner for the first time. In one of the few remaining letters, she was asking Steiner to visit her in Stockholm and see the finished part of the Paintings for the Temple series, 111 paintings in total. Steiner did see the paintings but mostly left unimpressed, stating that her way of working was inappropriate for a theosophist. According to H.P. Blavatsky, mediumship was a faulty practice, leading its adepts on the wrong path of occultism and black magic. However, during their meeting, Steiner stated that af Klint's contemporaries would not be able to accept and understand their paintings, and it would take another 50 years to decipher them. Of all the paintings shown to him, Steiner paid special attention only to the Primordial Chaos Group, noting them as "the best symbolically". After meeting Steiner, af Klint was devastated by his response and, apparently, stopped painting for 4 years. Interestingly enough, Steiner kept photographs of some of af Klint's artworks, some of them even hand-coloured. Later the same year he met Wassily Kandinsky, who had not yet come to abstract painting. Some art historians assume that Kandinsky could have seen the photographs and perhaps was influenced by them while developing his own abstract path. Later in her life, she made a decision to destroy all her correspondence. She left a collection of more than 1200 paintings and 125 diaries to her nephew, Erik af Klint. Among her last paintings made in 1930s, there are two watercolours predicting the events of World War II, titled The Blitz and The Fight in the Mediterranean.
In 1908, after making 111 paintings, she collapsed: “She had completed a painting every third day – including the 10 huge ones. She was exhausted.” And there was further reason for despond. That same year, Steiner was lecturing in Stockholm. She invited this charismatic man to see her paintings (Mondrian petitioned Steiner too, but always in vain). She had hoped he would interpret the work. Instead he advised: “No one must see this for 50 years.” For four years after this verdict she gave up painting and looked after her sightless mother. Johan shows me a photograph of Hilma at Hanmora, looking down with tenderness, a hand on her mother’s shoulder – the more sympathetic of clues to her character.
1910 -- first abstract by Kandinsky
1919 -- Bauhaus school founded
1923 -- Hilma writes Steiner asking him what she should do, "burn them?" She never hears back.
1925 -- Rudolf Steiner dies
1928 -- Theosophy reaches peak membership
1930s -- While studies, sketches, and improvisations exist (particularly of Composition II), a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky's first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit "Degenerate Art", and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other modern artists)
1932 -- Hilma af Klint's last will. In will, Hilma keaves 1200 paintings, 26,000 pages of notes (125 notebooks), not to be shown until 20 years after her death.
1933 -- Hitler appointed chancellor of Germany
1944 -- Hilma dies of car accident. She was 82. Also Kandinsky (77), Mondrian (pneumonia, 71)
1970s -- Johan af Kilnt offers works to the Moderna Museet, they refuse. The then-director turned them down. “When he heard that she was a medium, there was no discussion. He didn’t even look at the pictures.” Only in 2013 did the museum redeem itself with a retrospective. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/oct/06/hilma-af-klint-abstract-art-beyond-the-visible-film-documentary
1985 -- Hilma's work discovered. Distant relative of Klint finds paintings just hanging on walls of theosophical society.
1986 -- Hilma af Klint show: The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890-1985
2013 -- Hilma af Klint Moderna Museet Stockholm show: perhaps their most popular in history
2019 -- Hilma af Klint Guggenheim show: may have been it's most popular
2020 -- Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint documentary
recorded April 21, 2022
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