Works by Victorian Spiritualist Artist Georgiana Houghton on View in London for First Time in 150 Years

The overlooked artist pioneered spiritual abstraction alongside Hilma af Klint.

Georgiana Houghton The Eye of God (c. 1862) Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery
Georgiana Houghton The Eye of God (c. 1862)
Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Victorian spiritualist artist Georgiana Houghton will have her first exhibition in the UK since 1851, opening at London’s Courtauld Gallery on June 25.

Houghton’s work, inspired by her spirituality and Christian faith, is highly abstract and complex in its composition. Combining drawing, watercolor, and embroidery, her intense works are evocative of revered Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who has just been the subject of an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Both Houghton and Klint are only recently getting the attention they deserve for the pioneering level of abstraction displayed in their work. With Houghton working in the mid 1800s, and Klint in the early to mid 1900s, their practice puts them way ahead of their male counterparts in abstraction, such as Wassily Kandinsky.

Georgiana Houghton <i>The Eye of the Lord (reverse) </i> (c.1864) <br> Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Georgiana Houghton, The Eye of the Lord (reverse) (c.1864). Photo: Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Contact with the spirit world via mediums was very popular in Victorian times and was thought to draw those open to it closer to God. Houghton, a leading figure in the spiritualist community, detailed the spirits guiding her hands from beyond the grave, as well as angels, on the back of her works.

Intended to be realizations of her visions of the spirit world, Houghton for example credited the spirits of masters like Titian and Correggio with inspiring her on the reverse of her painting “The Eye of the Lord” (c.1864).

The exhibition “Georgina Houghton: Spirit Drawings” seeks to shed light on an unexplored area of Victorian culture. Moreover, gathering over 20 works, the show aims to place Houghton in the wider context of art history, as happened with Klint once her work was revisited a few years ago.

Georgina Houghton Glory be to God (c.1868) Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Georgina Houghton, Glory be to God (c.1868). Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Houghton trained as both an artist and as a medium, and she pioneered the practice of using art to express her communications with the spirit realm. It was during the 1860s and 70s that she made the abstract watercolors that she came to call “Spirit Drawings.”

Georgina HoughtonThe Flower and Fruit of Henry Lenny (August 28th 1861) Photo: courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

Georgina Houghton, The Flower and Fruit of Henry Lenny (August 28th 1861). Photo: courtesy the Courtauld Gallery.

Her first exhibition,which took place over 150 years ago, drew a mixed response, with The Daily News stating: “They deserve to be seen as the most extraordinary and instructive example of artistic aberration” and the The Era calling the show “the most astonishing exhibition in London at the present moment.”

Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) The Eye of the Lord (c. 1864) Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery

Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) The Eye of the Lord (c. 1864). Photo: courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Georgina Houghton: Spirit Drawings” will be on view at the Courtauld Gallery, London, from June 16 – September 11, 2016.


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