Blavatsky-inspired exhibitions Lawren Harris, Hilda Klint, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gaitonde, Oursler
Well-received Lawren Harris exhibit, an important Canadian ‘’Group of Seven’’ painter, mentions Theosophical inspiration:
By the time Harris discovered theosophy, Blavatsky was dead, but her legacy was thriving. He loved theosophy’s epic sweep and great sense of possibility. “Theosophy is no soporific like an ordinary religion—it excites all sorts of things, unknown and untoward things,” he wrote. He joined the Toronto Theosophical Society (serving on, of all things, the decorating committee), and gave lectures on theosophy and art. He quit smoking and drinking and Christianity. And he published in the Canadian Theosophist, arguing that art was part of the training of the soul. Harris read daily from William Quan Judge’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita—and believed he was the reincarnation of Judge himself.
In 1886, she formed a group of like-minded women interested in mediumship (communicating with the spirits of the dead) called “The Five” or “The Friday Group.” In 1888, she joined the Theosophical Society — as did Mondrian — and read the writings of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, who believed that thoughts could be manifested as colored forms carrying the purpose of the messenger. While she clearly was adept at rendering the visible world, her interest in theosophy led her to believe that painting was the best medium for bringing the invisible or occult world into the visible.
Oursler’s archive of the occult – exhibit mentions Theosophy’s influence on modern and pop art:
Creationism — which denies evolution — can still be taught in Louisiana public schools. In Kentucky, there is a theme park devoted to Noah’s Ark, complete with dinosaurs. However, before you start snickering, may I remind you that Madame Blavatsky, who wrote the influential The Secret Doctrine, had a stuffed baboon dressed in a suit in her study; in its hand was a copy of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Wassily Kandinsky, Frantisek Kupka, Piet Mondrian, and Kazimer Malevich read Blavatsky’s writings and believed they could evolve spiritually and reach a higher plane of consciousness. In the late 1870s, Hilma Af Klint, a pioneer of abstract art, attended a séance. She and four other women formed a group, “The Five” (de fem), that had séances, which, in Af Klint’s case, inspired her to begin a form of automatic drawing.
Comparing these to Monet’s serial haystacks is an obvious connection, but I think that Mondrian’s voyage toward abstraction is more apposite. Mondrian’s trees of the early 20th century evolve into a different form of rigorous geometry, while O’Keeffe’s sketchy paintings of cottonwood trees are aiming for a different essence of abstraction, one more akin to Canadian artist Emily Carr, who O’Keeffe met, and to the theosophy, serial and spiritual reading of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint.
Important modern Indian painter influenced by Blavatsky:
Despite “willing himself into oblivion”, Gaitonde’s genius has been acknowledged over the years. An unbeaten record at Christie’s of ₹23.7 crore in 2013, followed by his 2014 solo exhibition at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, have made Gaitonde a much sought-after artist. Sonata of Solitude traces the artist’s journey, delineating his major influences, from Wassily Kandinsky to Paul Klee and the writings of Helena Blavatsky.
Exposition: In 1903, the Theosophical Society founded the Halcyon Hotel and Sanitarium:
“Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91) created the Theosophical Society, a worldwide spiritual movement founded in New York that linked the “bodily manifestation of the Divine” from Krishna, Moses, the Buddha, Christ and down through Hiawatha. She saw them as purveyors of ancient wisdom who help us understand our higher selves. “