Have you ever heard about an 18th century artist who painted using her own hand, but was guided by her so-called ‘invisible friends’, including Renaissance artists? This is scary, right? But, isn’t her story exhilarating as well? But if you have lived her life or if you have known her from her time, you will somehow feel heartbroken because, here was a woman of talent as displayed in her abstract art paintings, but was ignored only because she was a woman in the world of men that are not prepared for ‘Spirit Drawings’.
Georgiana Houghton, a spiritualist artist, captured the interest of the Victorian public when she showcased a sequence of abstract watercolors during the 1860s. Her works differ from other abstract art paintings because according to her, many spirits, including that of Renaissance artists and angels, guided her hand. In 1871, she exhibited 155 of her spirit drawings in a prominent gallery space in London. The Era newspaper said that is was the most astounding exhibition in London, while The Daily News stated that her paintings were deserving of being viewed as the most out-of-the-ordinary and enlightening piece of artistic aberration. She is without a doubt the first-ever abstract artist – but why were her paintings not displayed in the public art gallery – not until this year?
A Revelation Brought By Houghton
The answer to the question above is also the answer to the query why only a few women were famous in art history. She was a female who was then in a world that only appreciated and recognized the artistic abilities of males. Women were said to be not included in the world of professional art and were ‘snubbed’ by academies prior to 20th century, with critics believing that men were more talented. When Houghton and her excellent works were discovered, this belief turned out to be insignificant.
The Discovery of an Overlooked Victorian Painter
Houghton is an unnoticed artist who is now being recognized for her abstract art paintings even before abstract pioneers like Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky. Her works from 150 years ago, products of Victorian culture and forerunner of abstract art for 20th century, is now being acknowledged and was presented in a UK exhibition (Courtauld Gallery) in June (it will run until September 2016). She may be ignored because of her claims that she talked to the dead and got assisted with her watercolors, but she is now enjoying the popularity that she was denied of in her lifetime.
According to Barnaby Wright, the 20th century art curator of the Courtauld Gallery, Houghton’s abstract art paintings were extraordinary that she was not among the first abstract painters as she was apparently earlier than Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist. She related that when she was presented of one of her works, she was mistaken when she said it was from 1960s or 1970s psychedelia. She fell straight into the trap because it was over a hundred years old – year 1865 to be exact.
Her Beginnings and Her Kind of Art
She was 57 years old when she had her first exhibition of ‘Spirit Drawings’ in a London gallery in Old Bond Street through the support of her artist friend, as well as ‘her ‘invisible friends’. Each day for three months, she was there in the gallery to be able to discuss her drawings with visitors. You can imagine her disappointment when it did not do well commercially.
She patiently and wholeheartedly worked on her 155 art pieces for the past decade with her hand guided by spirits. Her art was unique – packed with flowing spirals, sweeping lines, and frenetic dots. Reds, yellows, blues, and greens battle it out for a space on the A4 paper. At that time, they saw no form and there seemed to be no beginning or end…nothing to interpret, they believed. Drawings were titled with ‘The Hand of the Lord and Heavenly Hopes’ and ‘The Eye of God’. It is said that the Victorian public was ‘scared’ of her art in the spirit world… thus, commercial speaking, it wasn’t a success.
Houghton had formal training as an artist; it can be in France, but nobody can tell it accurately. It was in her census records that she indicated herself as an ‘artist’. Houghton presented herself to several famous art institutions, submitting her pictures. But none – including the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery and Royal Academy – was prepared to recognize her art. Initially, Dudley accepted her, but later on, for some reasons, her drawings were not (or no longer) exhibited in the gallery. She was a medium, working at the time of Victorian obsession for spiritualism. It is believed that this paved the way for her to be able to communicate with her ‘invisible friends’, particularly the Renaissance artists, and to create ‘Spirit Drawings’ that is acknowledged today as abstract art paintings.