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The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) was forty-four years old when she broke with the academic tradition in which she had been trained to produce a body of radical, abstract works the likes of which had never been seen before. Today, it is widely accepted that af Klint was one of the earliest abstract academic painters in Europe.
But this is only part of her story. Not only was she a working female artist, she was also an avowed clairvoyant and mystic. Like many of the artists at the turn of the twentieth century who developed some version of abstract painting, af Klint studied Theosophy, which holds that science, art, and religion are all reflections of an underlying life-form that can be harnessed through meditation, study, and experimentation. Well before Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich declared themselves the inventors of abstraction, af Klint was working in a nonrepresentational mode, producing a powerful visual language that continues to speak to audiences today. The exhibition of her work in 2018 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City attracted more than 600,000 visitors, making it the most-attended show in the history of the institution.
Despite her enormous popularity, there has not yet been a biography of af Klint—until now. Inspired by her first encounter with the artist’s work in 2008, Julia Voss set out to learn Swedish and research af Klint’s life—not only who the artist was but what drove and inspired her. The result is a fascinating biography of an artist who is as great as she is enigmatic.