British artist, Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884), developed skills as a medium after attending her first séance in 1859 and achieved her first mediumistic drawings in 1861. For the next decade, under the guidance of a spirit called Lenny followed by master painters and 70 Archangels, she produced over 155 extraordinary watercolour spirit drawings. Most of these have been lost, hopefully awaiting rediscovery. Of the 46 that have survived the majority are in the collections of spiritualist societies. The College of Psychic Studies, formerly known as the London Spiritualist Alliance, have 7 and around 35 have been preserved by the Victorian Spiritualist Union in Melbourne.
Houghton was delighted with her new gift and began each piece without preconception of the outcome. She filled each sheet of paper with woven swirls of vibrant colours forming an abstract and harmonious layering of hues and tints that were a completely different method to anything she had experienced in her art training. Houghton described them as “quite marvellous, the petals being seen through one another, while at the same time possessing a richness and brilliancy which filled me with more delight as each drawing was done”.
Amongst her circle of friends and fellow Spiritualists she soon became recognised as a pioneer of spirit art with Anna Howitt Watts and Elizabeth Wilkinson. Others such as Barbara Honywood, Catherine Berry and Alice Pery followed demonstrating that in England it was women who led the field of spirit inspired art.
To reach a wider audience and hopefully inspire others to become Spiritualists and develop their own gift as spirit artists, Georgiana single-handedly mounted a solo exhibition which took place from May-September in 1871 at the New British Gallery in Old Bond Street, London.
The exhibition attracted many visitors, some of whom were shocked by the previously unseen abstract forms. Although the show was applauded by several traditional artists, it generally received mixed reviews. By the end of the exhibition only one sale had been made, possibly because the work was seen as too modern for the tastes of Victorian England, or perhaps due to the exorbitant prices placed on the pieces by Georgiana. Either way the end result was that the show was a financial disaster for the artist.
Given that Houghton appears to have anticipated the abstract art of artists such as Kandinsky by half a century it is surprising that she has been largely ignored by art historians for over a century. However, this is slowly changing and with the current re-evaluation by a growing number of scholars and curators it looks likely that she will soon follow fellow spirit inspired artist, Hilma af Klint, and be recognised as not only a pioneer of spirit art, but modern art as well.
This website, celebrating the life and work of Georgiana Houghton, aims to share information on this remarkable woman and artist. Exhibitions and publications will be featured and events including Houghton’s spirit drawings or spirit art in general will be posted. Our Biography section will tell you more about her life. Any information is welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow our instagram feed @georgianahoughton and for more information on spirit inspired art follow @mediumisticart.