From 1920, Hilma af Klint created her abstract paintings in response to various theological and philosophical ideas she was interested in. This piece concerns leaders of the theosophy movement. ‘Mahatma’ comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘great souled’. In theosophical ideology, it was someone who has attained the rank of spiritual teacher. In this series of paintings, af Klint used a predominantly monochrome colour palette to explore her ideas.
Hilma af Klint
No. 2a, The Current Standpoint of the Mahatmas
FSC Certified paper and wood
Date of work
Original: Oil and graphite on canvas 36.5 × 27 cm Hilma af Klint Foundation
Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) was a Swedish artist, considered to be the first abstract artist in Western art history. Talented in mathematics and botany, she studied painting at Tekniska skolan in Stockholm, and then the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. She initially painted landscapes, portraits and botanical illustrations, but from 1906 she began creating large scale abstract artworks as part of her explorations of theosophy and spiritualism. Believing herself to be guided by a higher power when creating these radically abstract works, she did not exhibit them in her lifetime, and left instructions for them not to be shown until two decades after her death. She is now recognized as a pioneer in abstraction, predating the works of Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian.