Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

Lawren Harris and Theosophy – Part two

Kathleen F. Hall – Canada

[Part 1 of this article traced the life and work of the major Canadian artist Lawren Harris from socially conscious urban cityscapes through lyrical landscapes to transcendent, mystical interpretations of the land. This part examines Theosophical influences that led Harris to abstraction in a process that mirrors his own evolution into spiritual realization.]

The influence of the spiritual writings and paintings of Kandinsky can also been seen in Harris’s work. Harris read Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art and understood Kandinsky’s references to Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant’s book Thought-Forms, which Harris had read as well (Adamson). That book identifies colours with symbolic meanings based on states of consciousness that descend from spirit to matter: yellows, higher intelligence; blue, spirituality; and pale azure, union with the divine. Thought-Forms describes a radiating vibration that people emit when formulating a thought, with which colours combine to create a distinct form visible to clairvoyants. Adamson (p. 133) quotes from Thought-Forms to describe how these forms relate to art:

"In many respects, a work of art was a materialized thought-form of the artist, containing a spiritual significance and adhering to the three principles underlying all thought forms: 1. Quality of thought determines color. 2. Nature of thought determines form. 3. Definiteness of thought determines clearness of outline."

Read more: Lawren Harris and Theosophy – Part two

Big Bang & Theosophy

Astrophysicists generally hold that our universe began with a Big Bang, before which nothing existed. That would make our universe a unique event in cosmic history.

Read more: Big Bang & Theosophy

Crises of Faith or Doubt and Annie Besant

Catherine Wathen – USA

Public-Eye-2

The nineteenth century, everybody knows, was an age when faith was lost and scientific skepticism came to the fore. It was, after all, the age of Darwin, the saint of faithless skeptics. Yet, what “everybody knows” has been challenged in a recent book by Timothy Larsen: Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford University Press, 2006). In this book, Larsen argues that the view of the century of Darwin as a time when faith was on the wane is wrong, or at least incomplete. He cites examples of skeptics who rediscovered faith in traditional religion and maintains that they represent a “crisis of doubt” in the secular values of skepticism.

Read more: Crises of Faith or Doubt and Annie Besant

Lawren Harris and Theosophy – Part one

Kathleen F. Hall – Canada

“The power of beauty at work in man, as the artist has always known, is severe and exacting, and once invoked, will never leave him alone, until he brings his work and life into some semblance of harmony with its spirit” (Harris, “Theosophy and Art”).

Lawren Stewart Harris is well-known as a Canadian landscape painter and the founder of the Group of Seven. He was also a Theosophist whose art was highly influenced by his spirituality. Over the course of his career, Harris engaged in seeking spiritual knowledge, which in turn caused his work to evolve and change from an objective interpretation of the Canadian landscape to a non-objective representation of the spiritual.

Harris was born October 23, 1885 in Brantford, Ontario, but as a youth moved to Toronto. While a young college student attending University College, the University of Toronto, he was recognized for his artistic ability and was encouraged to study art in Europe. Consequently, in 1904 he attended art school in Berlin. In Europe, Harris had three important encounters that were to have a great influence on his life and art. One was an exhibit of nineteenth-century German art, including works by Caspar David Friedrich, whose vast open landscapes provoked a heightened spiritual sensibility. Another was meeting Paul Thiem, a poet, philosopher, Theosophist, and regionalist painter, who quite possibly introduced him to a Theosophical art exhibit in Munich at this time (Adamson). The third was the opportunity to go on hiking and sketching trips into the mountains. These three events marked a course for the direction that Harris’s life would follow thereafter.

Read more: Lawren Harris and Theosophy – Part one

Mondrian and Theosophy – Part two

Robert P. Welsh – USA


[This article originally appeared in a book called The Spiritual Image in Modern Art containing a series of articles compiled by Kathleen J. Regier published by Quest Books. All images are purely educational illustrations to an academic review of the subject].


A young Piet Mondrian

If the Devotion comprised an attempt by Mondrian to give artistic expression to an esoteric, clairvoyant experience of "astral" colors appropriate to the preliminary stages of Theosophic initia¬tion, then the Evolution triptych transports us to more exalted realms of occult knowledge. Above all, it is the title of this composi¬tion which betrays the ''higher spheres" to which its content relates. Evolution is no less than the basic tenet in the cosmological system predicated by Mme Blavatsky and, as such, replaces the Christian story of Creation as an explanation for how the world functions. This cosmology is analogous to Hindu and other mythologies which stress a perpetual cosmic cycle of creation, death, and re¬generation. It also has much in common with the Darwinian scientific theory of evolution. Darwin's only essential mistake, in Blavatsky's opinion, was to substitute matter for spirit as the motivating force in the universe. In her own world view, matter, though constituting a necessary vehicle through which the world of spirit was to be approached, clearly stands second in importance to the latter phenomenon, from which, to be sure, matter is said to have been born. The resulting concept of spirit as the active and matter as the passive force in the world is, of course, deeply rooted in a wide range of mystical tradition reaching far back into the past, as the writings of Blavatsky profusely attempt to illustrate.  More to the point, this conceptual polarity was universally accepted as a cardinal doctrine throughout the Theosophic and other in¬tellectually related late nineteenth century spiritualist movements and also is present within the subsequent Anthroposophy of Steiner and the Christosophie of Schoenmaekers. The same polar conception pervades the art theoretical writings of Mondrian, be-ginning with his letter to Querido of 1909, and is epitomized in his Sketchbook of circa 1912-14. In the latter text he specifically alludes to the Theosophic Doctrine of Evolution as a determining factor in the history of art.  In short, Mondrian could not have chosen as the theme of his monumental triptych a doctrine which was more central to Theosophic teaching than this.

Read more: Mondrian and Theosophy – Part two

Mondrian and Theosophy – part one

Robert P. Welsh – USA

[Dr. Robert P. Welsh (1932-2000) was an American art historian. Welsh’s magnum opus, the catalogue raisonné of Mondrian’s early work up to early 1911, was published in 1998. This article originally appeared in a book called The Spiritual Image in Modern Art containing a series of articles compiled by Kathleen J. Regier published by Quest Books. All images are purely educational illustrations to an academic review of the subject].

Public-Eye-Mondrian-1-B-Self-Portrait-1900
Self-portrait, 1900. The Phillips Collection. Washington D.C.

Mondrian's membership in the Theosophical Society, although invariably cited in accounts of his career, in general has been treated merely as an intellectual interest which helped to clarify his thinking about art, especially during the period of World War I which he spent in The Netherlands. By 1917, along with other members of the De Stijl group, he had arrived at a form of geometrizing abstract art so radically novel that some theoretical justification seemed called for in printed form. Thus, in October 1917 he joined in founding, under the editorship of Theo van Doesburg, the periodical De Stijl, which immediately began to carry his own series of articles, "De Nieuwe Beelding in de Schilderkunst" ("The New Plasticism in Painting").1  As an influence on these essays, most critics have singled out the Dutch "Christosoph," Dr. M.H.I. Schoenmaekers, whose books Het Nieuwe Wereldbeeld  (1915) and Beginselen der Beeldende Wiskunde (1916) Mondrian is known to have admired.2  Indeed, although translated into English as The New Image of the World and Principles of Plastic Mathematics, like Mondrian's own Franco-Anglicized term "Neo-plasticism," these titles all rely upon the significance of the Dutch word "beelding." This is best translated as "form-giving" and closer in definition to the German "Gestaltung" than to the English "image" or "plasticism." In any case, both the art theory of Mondrian and the philosophical system of Schoenmaekers adopt the concept beelding as a fundamental principle in viewing the world, and there can be no doubt that the personal contact between the two men was a mutually fruitful one, Doubtless, too, Professor H.L.C. Jaffé is correct in finding an affinity between the "abstract" thought patterns of Mondrian and Schoenmaekers, which, in turn, share in Dutch Calvinist traditions of precise and logical intellectual formulation.3  Nonetheless, the general tendency to grant such emphasis in Mondrian's art theory development to the role of Schoenmaekers has helped to obscure two essential facts; namely, the importance of Theosophy to Mondrian at a date previous to his contact with Schoenmaekers, and the incorporation of Theosophic ideas into his actual style of painting.   

Read more: Mondrian and Theosophy – part one

Theosophy and Architecture: K. P. C. de Bazel’s Dutch Trading Company Building in Amsterdam (Reprint from March 2011)

Theosophy and Architecture: K. P. C. de Bazel’s Dutch Trading Company Building in Amsterdam

Marty Th. Bax – The Netherlands  

[This essay was first published in Masonic and Esoteric Heritage: New Perspectives for Art and Heritage Policies. Proceedings of the First International Conference of the OVN, Foundation for the Advancement of Academic Research into the History of Freemasonry in the Netherlands, October 20-21, 2005. Ed. A. Kroon, M. Bax, J. Snoek. The Hague, Netherlands: OVN Foundation, 2005. It is reproduced here in a revised form.]

Theosophy and Architecture (part 2)

Chaos

On the exterior, lines are expressed in a subtler form, but before I elaborate on this, I first want to discuss the overall design. The building rests on a foundation of coarsely cut, greyish-green stone, called syenite (a granite-like igneous stone) from Hessen, Germany. De Bazel became acquainted with this type of stone through Lauweriks in 1912, when he visited his friend Lauweriks at his inauguration as the new head of the German section of the Theosophical Society. (Lauweriks thus was successor to Rudolf Steiner, who had just withdrawn to found his Anthroposophical Society.) This dark foundation of syenite can Theosophically be explained as ‘dense matter’. To the Theosophist this is the first and ‘lowest’ of the three main stages of cosmic evolution. It is chaos, the pre-mineral, undifferentiated cosmic state of matter from which all forms emerge.

Read more: Theosophy and Architecture: K. P. C. de Bazel’s Dutch Trading Company Building in Amsterdam...

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