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Hilma af Klint

Discover the visionary artist disrupting art history

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The swan

The swan

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The swan

The majestic swan symbolised the ‘grandeur of the spirit’ to Helena Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, a spiritualist movement of great interest to Hilma af Klint; in alchemy, the swan represents the union of opposites necessary for the creation of the philosopher’s stone, a substance believed to turn base metals into gold.

In this series, af Klint blends such established symbolism with her own idiosyncratic interpretations. The first painting portrays two swans – one black (male, with yellow beak), the other white (female, with blue face and feet). This stark palette underscores the dualities of light and dark, male and female, life and death.

As the series progresses the colour range expands, and the swans are replaced with geometric forms suggestive of higher dimensions, including a vibrating colour wheel, concentric circles of cubic forms, and mandala-like designs. The final painting shows the birds intertwined, their beaks joined by a hook and eye, a symbol of sexual union within af Klint’s lexicon.

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Installation view of the Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12 June – 19 September 2021. Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter © AGNSW

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Hilma af Klint 'Group IX/SUW, The swan, no 1' 1914–15. Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation, HaK149. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Hilma af Klint Group IX/SUW, The swan, no 1 1914–15

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Hilma af Klint 'Group IX/SUW, The swan, no 17' 1915. Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation, HaK165. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Hilma af Klint Group IX/SUW, The swan, no 17 1915

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The swan

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Installation view of the Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12 June – 19 September 2021. Photo: Jenni Carter © AGNSW

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