The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was 44 years old when she broke with the academic tradition in which she had been trained. While her naturalistic landscapes and botanicals were shown during her lifetime, her body of radical, abstract works never received the same attention. Today, it is widely accepted that af Klint produced the earliest abstract paintings by a trained European artist. But this is only part of her story. Not only was she a successful woman artist, but 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 non-representational 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 museum/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.