An Eagle-Eyed Hilma af Klint Fan Claims That Tate Hung a Painting Upside Down. The Artist’s Foundation Has Vowed to Investigate

The amateur sleuth noticed a discrepancy in the orientation of the work compared to its companions.

Hilma af Klint, The Swan no. 14 (1914-15). Photo courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation.

A Hilma af Klint fan who visited the recent af Klint and Piet Mondrian double header exhibition at Tate Modern in London noticed something off about one of the paintings. Was it accidentally hung…upside down?

American tourist Katie Boyle was visiting the show with her wife when the eagle-eyed pair noticed that something seemed off about The Swan no. 14. For starters, a triangle at the painting’s center was inverted, which was not the case for any of the other works in the “Black Swan” series.

Closer comparison also revealed that the companion paintings all placed yellow tones, used by af Klint to symbolize masculine energy, and blue, to symbolize feminine energy, towards the bottom of the frame, while pink, used to represent spiritual love, generally emanated upwards from the central triangle. This was reversed for The Swan no. 14.

“It would be unlikely for an artist known for elevating and emphasizing the spiritual above the banal to deliberately place a representation of spiritual love below such a motif’s baser masculine and feminine components,” the women wrote in a letter sent to Tate Modern and the Hilma af Klint Foundation. “Especially given the context of the series’ other thematic constants.”

The couple’s minds were made up about the mistake when they referenced one of af Klint’s Blue Books, which was being sold in the museum’s gift shop. The Blue Books are a series of ten sketchbooks in which af Klint kept miniature, travel size versions of her designs, and they have since informed her catalogues raisonnés. This publication appeared to confirm their suspicions, showing the same work inverted, with the pinkish hues beaming upwards.

Hand-colored reproduction of Hilma af Klint’s The Swan no. 14 in The Blue Books. Photo courtesy of Katie Boyle.

Hilma af Klint Foundation’s CEO Jessica Höglund agrees that the evidence is compelling. “As Hilma af Klint created the Blue Books, we rely on them to show the artworks as she intended,” she told Artnet News.

The show was dismantled last week and the painting will shortly be investigated by the foundation’s conservator for any marks on the frame that might indicate how it should be hung. “The Swan no. 14 was mounted in the stretcher almost 40 years ago to hang the way it now is presented, so we need to investigate it thoroughly before making any changes in order to not harm the artwork,” Höglund added. “This needs to be done when the artwork is back in Stockholm.”

The work is currently traveling to the Netherlands before the exhibition opens at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, where it will run October 7 until February 25, 2024. This means that no definitive answer about how the painting should be hung is expected before next spring.

“There is only a period of about ten years that af Klint’s works have been so widely exhibited and the research has developed in step with the exhibitions,” said Höglund. “Hilma af Klint left over 1,000 works in the Foundation and even though she also left a large number of notebooks, there are not any notes on how the paintings should be presented. Hilma af Klint did not see her works The Paintings for the Temple as artworks as we see them today, but as a message.”

“I am an artist whose life runs oddly parallel to Ms. af Klint’s, and I feel strongly protective of her work and legacy,” Boyle told Artnet News. “We really just hoped the discovery could help others to learn Hilma’s visual language and to take time to appreciate abstract art.”

Boyle also alerted Tate Modern about her suspicions by email on August 28th but never heard back. Artnet News has also reached out to the museum but did not receive a response by press time.

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