In a 1935 letter to his New York gallerist, Wassily Kandinsky made a bold claim: “Indeed,” he wrote of a 1911 work, “it’s the world’s first ever abstract picture, because back then not one single painter was painting in an abstract style. A ‘historic painting’, in other words.”
But is it true? Probably not. Swedish painter Hilma af Klint “worked with abstract imagery as early as 1906, arguably several years before Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, Robert Delaunay and Frantisek Kupka, long considered the trailblazers of the movement”:
“Kandinsky was actively campaigning for himself as being the first abstract artist, constantly writing his gallery and saying, ‘Hey, you know, I was the first! I painted the first abstract painting in 1911!'” said Julia Voss, an art historian and art critic for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “He was obviously successful, as he’s widely considered the father of 20th-century abstraction. But all the while, af Klint, much more privately, had already been creating these striking, abstract visuals for years.”
Stockholm’s Moderna Museet is featuring 230 of her works in the exhibition Hilma af Klint—A Pioneer of Abstraction. You know, if you find yourself in Sweden any time soon.