Ask and you shall receive. Our Hilma af Klint collectors have been all types of enthusiastic about our limited-edition prints of the abstract artist’s wildly innovative work. Today, we’re branching out with a new af Klint image from a later subset of her Paintings for the Temple cycle. An excerpt from her Altarpieces series, Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X is an extension of the same “divine commission” that compelled af Klint to create The Ten Largest, from which our three earlier editions were selected. But Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X is also a dazzling departure, one better described by someone savvier on the subject of af Klint than us—Allison Meier, who’s written about our af Klint editions before. Sample her thoughts below, then read her full introduction to our new edition on the blog.
— Team 20x200
In the spiraling temple Hilma af Klint imagined for her paintings, a visitor’s journey would culminate with a trio of striking works, one of which was Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X. Now available as a 20x200 edition, it is a depiction of ascension, with a central rainbow-hued triangle leading the eye up to a gilded sun.
The Swedish artist’s temple was never built and it took decades after her death in 1944 for her visionary practice to receive public attention (due in part to her directive that her abstract pieces not be exhibited until two decades following her death). The recent success of the Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York finally vaunted her to widespread acclaim. The winding ramp of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim, similar to the structure of the unrealized temple, also gave the works a setting akin to their envisioned home.
Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X was completed in 1915, one of the final works in what af Klint called her “great commission.” This artistic task came from a 1906 séance, one of the many af Klint participated in with a group of women known as the Five, who together joined in automatic drawing and writing. The Paintings for the Temple would involve 193 works created between 1906 and 1915. (During this span, af Klint took a break of four years to care for her ailing mother.) The later Altarpieces are different from the previous af Klint editions on 20x200, which include The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood, Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV, and The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood, Group IV. Unlike Altarpieces, these three images date to the early years of The Paintings for the Temple, showing how af Klint shifted from intuitively painted biomorphic forms in vibrant tempura to more deliberate works imbued with symbolism.
The trio of Altarpiece paintings, which she stated were “the summary of the series so far,” has elements from earlier pieces in The Paintings for the Temple cycle, where orbs and geometric shapes arranged in a transfixing symmetry regularly appear. No. 2 of the Altarpiece works has a darkly-colored, inverted triangle, as if guiding celestial forces down to the earth, while No. 1 offers the ascent. No. 3 concentrates on the radiant circle, with colors from both triangular pathways suggesting a point of earthly and spiritual meeting. Together, the effect is one of harmony. The sensation of encountering the paintings at the end of a meditative passage through a temple filled with art, each piece aimed at conveying messages from a mystical plane, would have been one of transcendence.
Like many other artists of the 20th century—such as Wassily Kandinsky, who in 1912 published Concerning the Spiritual in Art on the possibility for color to communicate the psychological and the spiritual, and more recently Paul Laffoley, whose intricate paintings transmitted ideas on lucid dreams and time travel—art was a spiritual protocol for af Klint. Her work responded to the lingering influence of 19th-century spiritualism and emerging early 20th-century belief, particularly Theosophy and its concepts of the ascent and descent of matter and spirit in a constant cycle. Yet even without any knowledge of these beliefs, we can still be drawn into her compositions, which resonate with the powerful idea of connecting to something divine through art.
—Allison C. Meier
About Our Guest Author
Allison C. Meier is a Brooklyn-based writer on art, history, and culture. Previously she was senior editor at Atlas Obscura, and more recently a staff writer at Hyperallergic. She moonlights as a cemetery tour guide.