The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV by Hilma af Klint
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800) | 40"x30" ($1800) The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV, our new Vintage Edition from the incomparable Hilma af Klint. This limited-edition print is the second af Klint to join our collection, and like the first it comes from a group of large scale, wall-dominating (nearly 10 foot by 9 foot) paintings called The Ten Largest—a subset of the artist’s series The Paintings for the Temple. Maybe you've been lucky enough to ogle them in person at the Guggenheim's af Klint exhibition, Paintings for the Future. If not, you've got until next Tuesday 4/23 to catch the show.
Citing a spiritual force as the impetus behind the project and using her unique stylistic and symbolic vocabulary, af Klint set out to represent the various phases of the human life cycle in The Ten Largest, from early childhood to old age. While The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood, Group IV, depicts full-fledged adulthood, No. 3 is the artist’s interpretation of the transitional period of youth. Feels fitting for the season, no?
Beyond the seasonal synchronicity, we’re excited to add No. 3 to the mix because it fleshes out more of the astonishingly considered, idiosyncratic ways af Klint communicated via the conduit of her paintbrush. No. 3 is less diagrammatic than No. 7, with just a localized appearance of letterforms and no roman numerals. Its bright orange background seems to swell like a full vein, churning with colorful circular shapes and the snail-shell spirals and swirls af Klint often used to signify growth, or evolution of a metaphysical flavor. Whereas No. 7 incorporates some more established-feeling elements, No. 3 is very much in flux.
Alas, it’s impossible to paint a holistic picture of what af Klint was up to in her art using a medium as limited as language, though we certainly relish the opportunity to try (see our earlier articulation accompanying our debut af Klint edition). One lens through which to view her work is to examine her own extensive notes and documentations, which reveal a remarkably systematic approach to her endeavor to describe the indescribable. For that, we turn to an exceptional monograph edited and copublished by Christine Burgin with commentary from Iris Müller-Westermann: Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods.
Aside from elucidating af Klint’s elliptical letter combinations and invented words in a capacious dictionary, Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods reproduces copies of a number of af Klint’s early notebooks—including her hand-painted Blue Notebooks, characterized as “a catalogue, meticulously and beautifully assembled by Hilma af Klint, of the paintings she considered to be her most important body of work. In these ten books she organizes The Paintings for the Temple into a sequence of discrete series, preserving both the images and the progression of the work, together with a summation of the spiritual knowledge that she devoted her life to understanding and she wished to preserve intact for generations to come.” We’ll leave you with this excerpt from Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods—a brief explanation of the Blue Notebooks, and a glimpse inside af Klint’s astoundingly complex approach to artmaking:
On the opening page of each book she notes the sizes of the original works and the dates when they were created. She begins with Group I, “Primordial Chaos” or the WU/Rose series [...], the first series of The Paintings for the Temple. Here the development of matter out of spirit is explored. “U” stands for the spiritual and “W” for matter; yellow represents the masculine and blue the feminine [...] She continues through each series systematically exploring principles of polarity in its many forms; light and dark, good and evil, male and female. Polarity is understood by af Klint as a basic organizing principle of life into which is embedded a yearning for the return to unity. This desire for unity leads to spiritual evolution, which eventually culminates in a return to Oneness. For Hilma af Klint, the heart has a central role in this process. The three Altarpiece paintings of the final book, Group X [...], depict the development of the material world from unity into multiplicity, experience in the world, and finally the return to Oneness. They are described by af Klint as “a summary of the whole work.”
It is important to note that for Hilma af Klint evolution is not used in the Darwinian sense but refers instead to spiritual evolution. Both the Theosophists and Rudolf Steiner believed that humans were once pute spirit, but that they had been separated from their spiritual selves by the material world. Evolution for Steiner and for af Klint is the process that will ultimately lead to the respiritualization of humankind.