“In this talk, I take up the work of the British mediumistic artist Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884), whose works feature in a new exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. Houghton became interested in spiritualism in the early 1860s and began to practise as a medium. A trained artist, she produced a series of drawings that she claimed were done under the direct influence of spiritual entities. These works were almost exclusively non-figurative and seem to anticipate abstraction by at least 40 years. Her story presents some similarities with the the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), who also began to develop an abstract style of painting as a medium under the perceived guidance of spiritual entities, a few years before Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. How should we understand Georgiana Houghton’s (and Hilma af Klint’s) art? The context in which mediumistic art was first appreciated was psychical research, especially in the works of F.W.H. Myers. Myers presented a psychological approach to the problem of artistic genius, referring to automatic drawing as an example of the ‘subliminal uprush’. For Myers, artistic genius manifested itself when an artist was able to combine the inspiration coming from the ‘subliminal uprush’ with their ‘supraliminal stream of thought’. Myers’s theories were significant for psychologists and artists who tried to make sense of the phenomenon of mediumistic art throughout the 20th century.”
Here is a description of the exhibit from The Guardian:
‘“In terms of artistic quality they are well above and beyond what one might normally associate with amateur practitioners of an eccentric kind,” said Wright. “These are exquisite as watercolours … they are compelling just on their own terms.”
Houghton, born in 1814, was an ardent and well-known promoter of spiritualism, a movement that attracted many believers in Victorian England and was later championed by such figures as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
She was a trained artist and medium and pioneered the use of drawing as a method of channeling and expressing communications with the dead.
Houghton would host a seance, talk to her spirit guide and draw complex, colourful and layered watercolours. They anticipate the works both of abstract 20th-century artists and the later Surrealists who engaged with automatic and unconscious drawings.’