Two interesting exhibitions in London recently: Hilma Af Klint at the Serpentine Galleries and Georgiana Houghton at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
Hilma Af Klint (1862–1944), of Sweden was creating abstract works about five years before Kandinsky. Through her work with the group “The Five,” af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an innovative geometric visual language. She had no desire to be part of any contest, or indeed the art world in general. Her paintings would not be seen publicly until 1986.
Hilma af Klint,The Ten Largest, (1907)
Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884) was also painting in a non-figurative way even earlier, from 1861 when she produced the first of several hundred intricate, abstract and richly symbolic artworks, which were, according to her, “without parallel in the world”. In contrast to af Klint, she was keen to present her work to the artistic establishment. The exhibition at the Courtauld was the first time this artist’s work has been exhibited publicly since 1871.
Interestingly, both artists rejected direct authorship of their work, claiming that they were guided by entities to convey important spiritual messages through their art – perhaps a subconscious means to sidestepping the cultural marginalisation of women at the time and finding validation for their work. Through their spiritualist experiments, they were able to conceptualise invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds and develop radically innovative styles.