Dr. Marty Bax, art historian, international expert on the work of Piet Mondrian, and on Modern Art & Western Esotericism; Expert provenance researcher on the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in the Netherlands for the Claims Conference-World Jewish Restitution Organization Looted Art and Cultural Property Initiative

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10 May 2017

Hilma af Klint revisited. Part I. The Theosophical Society in Sweden

As a researcher I am inclined to return to subjects which have seen no satisfactory conclusion. These open ends keep nagging me and force me to revise the facts and search for new ones. Such is the case with Hilma af Klint. I wrote about her a couple of years ago, questioning some biographical facts of her life, her position within the group of The Five and her art production. Four of the women of The Five, all members of the Stockholm Lodge of the Theosophical Society, are supposed to have merely served the impressive output on esoteric art which made Hilma af Klint famous.

In this blog, cut into three parts, I want to present alternative views.

Hilma af Klint revisited. Part II: The Edelweissförbundet and The Five

The Five was not, by any means, a product of five women after they joined forces in the Stockholm Lodge of the TS. The history of The Five starts solidly, and about 10 years earlier, within a completely different group, the Edelweissförbundet (Edelweiss Society). This society has been mentioned in Af Klint’s biography, but only fleetingly, in a sort of names-dropping way. But this society and its aims have shaped course and contents of the later activities of The Five in the most essential manner.

The Edelweissförbundet was founded in December 1888. This is, in fact, parallel to the founding of the branch of the TS in Stockholm. And this must be the date which has mistakenly be identified as the date in which Hilma af Klint joined the Theosophical Society.

Hilma af Klint revisited. Part III: Anna Cassel, Hilma's 'other half'

So this time I want to draw Anna Cassel into the limelight. Anna has frequently been mentioned only as as Hilma’s life-long friend and artist-colleague, but again, only fleetingly. From 1882-1887 they attended the Stockholm academy Anna from 1880, Hilma from 1882 onwards. One of their teachers was Count Georg von Rosen (1843-1923). Members of his larger family became members of the Edelweissförbundet.

WTF?! The artist is granted a PhD

Since1850 freedom of press became the pillar of a democratic state. Freedom of press was the starting point of an avalanche of artists manifests. Modern art is a direct outcome of this development until today, and so is the artist as being the primary voice and explicator of his artistic goals. This mechanism has in effect become a solid part of modern tradition. That tradition we would now call “branding”: creating your USP’s through your work and your manifests, and creating your own market through as much followers as possible.

The university has now become one of those followers. Recently the University of Leiden launched a chair for the “art sciences”, through which artists can acquire a PhD. It’s officially called “PhDArts at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts” and is a collaboration between the Leiden University and the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. The chair is led by the art historian and (former) art critic Janneke Wesseling.