MAURICE CHABAS TIMELINE
1862 (September 26): Maurice Chabas was born in Nantes, France.
1878: Chabas entered the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Nantes.
1883-1888: Chabas continued his studies at Paris’ Académie Julian under Bouguereau and Robert-Fleury.
1889: Increasingly interested in mysticism and esotericism, Chabas discovered the book The Great Initiates, by Édouard Schuré.
1892: Chabas exhibited his works at Pour l’Art, a circle active between 1892 and 1895 that promoted an art called “idealistic.”
1892-1897: Chabas exhibited in the Salons Rose+Croix.
1892: In the first Salon Rose+Croix, Chabas exhibited Erraticité (Erraticness), a painting appreciated by critics and regarded as the earliest example of an “occult art.”
1893: Chabas exhibited Les Voix de l’au-delà (Voices from the Hereafter).
1894: Rosicrucian leader Joséphin Péladan listed Chabas among the painters who would crucially influence the future of art.
1896: Chabas was listed among the exhibitors in the first Salon d’Art Idéaliste, organized by the Belgian painter Jean Delville.
1900-1914: Chabas’ studio started to host meetings attended by writers (including future Nobel Prize laureates), academics, and esoteric masters.
1914 (March 22): Chabas gave, at the Paris’ artistic section of the Theosophical Order of the Star in the East, and subsequently published in the Order’s magazine, the lecture Du rôle social de l’art. Sa puissance de suggestion, considérée comme mode d’évolution de l’individu et des collectivités (The Social Role of the Art: Its Power of Suggestion Considered as a Toll for the Evolution of Individuals and Societies).
1917: Chabas became a member of the Studio Lodge of the French Theosophical Society, at that time the most important Theosophical lodge in Paris.
1918-1921: Chabas wrote the mystical book Les Psaumes d’Amour Spirituel (The Psalms of Spiritual Love), which was published in 1921 with a preface of astronomer Camille Flammarion, a Spiritualist and a Theosophist.
1921: Chabas exhibited at the Société Agni, which included Theosophists and philosophers.
1922: Slides with Chabas’ paintings on the Resurrection were projected during a lecture by astrologer and esoteric author Paul Le Cour on Les États immuables de la Matière et les forces inconnues (The Unchangeable States of the Matter and the Unknown Forces) at the Institut métapsychique international, Paris.
1926: Chabas’ work was discussed in several articles published by the Catholic journal Regnabit, which also included contributions by esotericists.
1926: An exhibition of the religious works of Chabas was organized at La Palette Française, Paris.
1928 (June 28): Chabas lectured at the Sorbonne on Le Rôle social de l’art et la mission de l’artiste (The Social Role of Art and the Artist’s Mission).
1929: Les trois Activités humaines (Three Human Activities) by Valentine Reynaud, president of the Studio Lodge of the Theosophical Society, featuring illustrations by Chabas, was published.
1947 (December 11): After a long period of silence, Chabas died in Versailles, France.
An essential aspect of the work of Maurice Chabas (1862-1947) [Image at right] is his relationship with the larger artistic phenomenon known as Symbolism or “Idealism,” between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Chabas was a mystical artist who, during his entire career, tried to propagate through his art his deeply held spiritual beliefs, particularly his belief that the soul would survive the body (see Reiss-de Palma 2004; de Palma 2004, 2008, 2009). Before becoming a Theosophist, Chabas was a passionate supporter of Rosicrucianism, and exhibited at every Salon de la Rose+Croix between 1892 and 1897. Later, however, his imagination and his passion for innovation would lead him to purer and simpler forms, and he ended up embracing an abstract art free from any reference to reality. His non-figurative paintings became progressively more ethereal, luminous, and colorful. Chabas believed that abstract art was naturally predisposed to communicate the Christian mysteries. He was against all kinds of artistic formalism, and was persuaded that art and spirituality were closely connected. Form was but the vehicle for a spiritual message. Chabas believed that multiple forms were needed, because the Divine is intrinsically multiform. [Image at right]
Maurice Chabas was born in Nantes, France, on September 26, 1862, in a cultivated and scholarly family. In 1878, he entered the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. In 1883, at age twenty-one, he continued his studies in Paris at the famous Académie Julian, under William Bouguereau (1825-1905) and Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911), from whom he would learn the basic techniques of painting. He remained at Julian’s until 1888.
In 1892, Belgian symbolist painter and Theosophist Jean Delville (1867-1953), who shared several esoteric and occult interests with Chabas, established in Brussels the circle Pour l’Art (active between 1892 and 1895), which defined his vocation as “idealistic.” Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren (1855-1916) reviewed the first exhibition of Pour l’Art in the Brussels daily La Nation on November 19, 1892, writing:
These painters are really idealist. There are several of them in Pour L’Art. Delville, Ciamberlani, Fabry, Séon, Chabas, Filiger, Jacque, Trachsel, Verkade are the main names. All of them show audacity in the invention, stubbornness in proposing a kind of art so far misunderstood, indifference before the public shrug… Chabas, in particular, travels through stars and clouds in his eternal journey (Verhaeren 1892).
In 1896, Chabas would exhibit again at another initiative by Delville, the first Salon d’Art Idéaliste.
In 1891, Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) founded a new Rosicrucian order, La Rose+Croix du Temple et du Graal, also known as Rose+Croix Catholique. One of his first companions was French poet Saint-Pol-Roux (1861-1940). In 1894, Péladan published the book L’Art idéaliste et mystique, which presented his theory of aesthetics (Péladan 1894). In the same year, he organized the first Salon de la Rose+Croix, inaugurated with a concert featuring music by Erik Satie (1866-1925). The Salons continued until 1897 and Chabas participated in all of them (see Pincus-Witten 1976; Da Silva 1991). At the first Salon, Chabas exhibited Erraticité (Erraticness), a painting appreciated by critics and regarded as the earliest example of an “occult art.” In 1893, Chabas exhibited Les Voix de l’au-delà (Voices from the Hereafter). Several other paintings by Chabas dealt with the communication between the living and the dead.[Image at right]
Each salon was a great social event, as Parisians congregated to savor the strange atmosphere, including burning incense, organ music, Wagnerian trumpets, and flowers everywhere. Poet and esoteric author Léonce de Larmandie (1851-1921) left a living review of the first Salon in his book L’Entr’acte ideal. He noted that “Chabas, with his painting on erraticness, took us to the astral world, with his great cavalcade of the souls in the ethereal infinity. Chabas is among the first artists who have frankly embraced the occult in their paintings” (Larmandie 1903:14). Péladan listed Chabas among the painters who would crucially influence the future of the arts, together with Armand Point (1860-1932), Louis Welden Hawkins (1849-1910), Alexandre Séon (1855-1917), Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1865 or 1867-1909), Edmond Aman-Jean (1858-1936), Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), and André des Gachons (1871-1951) (Péladan and Marquet de Vasselot 1894:1).
Chabas was widely admired at the Salons Rose+Croix, thanks to his fascinating mystical paintings, and quickly became famous. Suddenly, this young artist was sought out and admired by Queen Elizabeth of Belgium (1876-1965), the king and queen of Romania, poets, academics, and Roman Catholic bishops.
The Great Initiates, a discussion of the secret history of the great religions by Alsatian Theosophist Édouard Schuré (1841-1929), was published in 1889 and became a European best seller. Every Friday, Schuré received his guests in rue d’Assas in a living room decorated by four large paintings by Chabas. It was not a typical Parisian salon, as guests discussed moral, spiritual, and occasionally social problems, but focused mostly on esotericism, which in fact found there one of its main centers in Paris. Chabas, a friend and a great admirer of Schuré, attended these gatherings as often as possible. Guests discussed in a scholarly, yet light, style subjects ranging from India to Plato (ca. 427-347 BCE) or Pythagoras (ca.580-495 BCE) (see Roux 1931). Schuré, however, preferred to stay away from occultism, which was perhaps not the case for Chabas.
Chabas, in fact, regarded as the greatest work for each human the search for God within himself or herself, conducted by developing an occult knowledge and making hidden powers emerge from the subconscious. He called this the “union with the Divine Spirit,” which is within us but can be reached only if we become masters of our bodies by eliminating all impurities. Chabas liked to quote Goethe (1749-1832), a Freemason interested in Rosicrucian lore, to the effect that “you should not seek the Kingdom of God here or there, it is inside you.” The painter believed that through love and wisdom the soul would evolve and identify with the Divine. A typical representation of these ideas is Chabas’ Marche à deux vers l’au-delà (A Couple Marching Toward the Hereafter), which was at the Geneva Musée du Petit Palais before being sold to a private collector. [Image at right]
Chabas was now well-known and well-off, and he moved to a larger home at 3, Villa Sainte-Foy in Neuilly-sur-Seine. His studio became another popular cultural Parisian salon, where several important personalities gathered regularly. They included writers, some of them future Nobel Prize laureates, such as Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), and Léon Bloy (1846-1917); academics, such as sociologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939); physiologist Charles Richet (1850-1935, another Nobel Prize laureate); astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), who was also a Spiritualist and a Theosophist; Catholic theologians, such as Father Antonin Sertillanges (1863-1948); and esotericists, such as Schuré, Péladan, and René Guénon (1886-1951). The latter told the scientists that our contemporary sciences are but a remnant of certain great lost primordial sciences esotericism might help to recover. These gatherings went on regularly until World War I. Meeting so many different thinkers, and reading esoteric books from the West and the East, generated what Chabas believed was his “prophetic consciousness.” This consciousness continuously created forms within the framework of what he called “the mission of the artist,” which should capture infinity in the finite and lead the audience towards a higher dimension. Chabas was also interested in Christian Science, and for a while he called himself a Christian Scientist (see Reiss-de Palma 2004:82) during the years of World War I.
On March 22, 1914, Chabas gave a lecture whose title resumed his main intellectual and artistic concerns at the Paris’ artistic section of the Order of the Star in the East, the Theosophical organization centered on the Messianic role of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986). The title was Du rôle social de l’art. Sa puissance de suggestion, considérée comme mode d’évolution de l’individu et des collectivités (The Social Role of the Art: Its Power of Suggestion Considered as a Tool for the Evolution of Individuals and Societies). The lecture would be published in the Order’s magazine, The Herald of the Star, on July 11, 1914 (Chabas 1914).
The lecture started, in vintage Chabas style, with the statement that art should elevate the audience’s souls and take them to higher realms. There followed the claim that each true artist is an energetic center, a living and even tangible connection with the great forces responsible for the evolution of our world. Artists, Chabas insisted, have a sacred role: “Their works include a vital principle of the highest order, and are the visible materialization of the great Highest Thoughts, whose inspiration flows from the pure sources of the higher and more harmonious realms.” For Chabas, the work of art, far from being a mere static and lifeless object, is a living organism. But not every work that claims to be art; rather, only a small group of artists are prepared by a life of contemplation to reach an adequate spiritual evolution and accomplish a special mission. Loneliness and meditation are essential to be initiated into the highest mysteries of life. Chabas mentioned a “Unique Law” of the universe, which the soul can grasp while, in a quiet state, it purifies itself from lower instincts and mundane desires. [Image at right]
Artists are unique among humans for their special knowledge, consciousness of themselves, attunement to the Higher Voices. But, through their creations, they become the vanguard of a similar evolution offered as a possibility to all humans. In the social life, Chabas concluded, artists are always silently present through their works, which wake up the souls and elevate them to higher realms (Chabas 1914). Obviously, some of the lecture’s claims might have looked somewhat exaggerated to the audience. As Theosophists often did, Chabas tried to connect them with recent findings of astronomy and physics.
It is not surprising that Chabas delivered his lecture to the Order of the Star in the East. In 1917, he became a member of the Studio Lodge of the French Theosophical Society, at that time the most important Theosophical lodge in Paris. Valentine Reynaud (?-1933) presided at the meetings. The meetings initially were attended by twelve members, all artists, at the Paris’ French headquarters of the Theosophical Society. In 1921, Chabas published the mystical book Les Psaumes d’Amour Spirituel (The Psalms of Spiritual Love), which included a preface by Flammarion (Chabas 1921). In 1921, Chabas exhibited at the Société Agni, which included Theosophists and philosophers. In 1922, slides with Chabas’ paintings on the Resurrection were projected during a lecture by Paul Le Cour (1871-1954), an astrologer and one of the first proponents of the idea of a coming New Age, on Les États immuables de la Matière et les forces inconnues (The Unchangeable Status of the Matter and the Unknown Forces) at the Institut métapsychique international in Paris. In 1926, Chabas’ work was discussed in several articles published by Regnabit, the journal of the Catholic Société du Rayonnement Intellectuel du Sacré-Cœur, which included texts by both Catholic theologians and esotericists.
In the same year, a successful exhibition of the religious works of Chabas was organized at La Palette Française, Paris. In 1928, Chabas was invited to lecture at the Sorbonne, where he discussed Le Rôle social de l’art et la mission de l’artiste (The Social Role of Art and the Artist’s Mission), where he re-examined some ideas of his 1914 lecture at the Order of the Star in the East. In 1929, Valentine Reyaud, the president of the Studio Lodge of the Theosophical Society, published Les trois Activités humaines (The Three Human Activities), featuring illustrations by Chabas.
As he grew old, however, Chabas was more and more focused on mysticism and his personal spiritual quest. [Image at right] He neglected his social life and even his work. He wrote that “I need to forget everything to learn everything again, learn from scratch, without confining my investigation to the realm of forms only” (Chanteaud-Chabas 1972:1). Novelist François Mauriac (1885-1970), yet another Nobel Prize laurate who befriended Chabas, wrote to him: “You understood that it was necessary for you to forget yourself in Contemplation” (Chanteaud-Chabas 1972:1). A voluntary recluse, Chabas died on December 11, 1947 in Versailles, alone and without even the presence of his family and closest friends.
**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.
Image#1: Maurice Chabas painting, Villa Sainte-Foy, Neuilly-sur-Seine, ca. 1905.
Image#2: Maurice Chabas, Extase (all paintings by Chabas are undated).
Image#3: Maurice Chabas, Les Âmes.
Image#4: Maurice Chabas, Marche à deux vers l’au-delà.
Image#5: Maurice Chabas, Extase mystique dans le Cosmos.
Image #6: Maurice Chabas, La Paix du soir.
Chanteaud-Chabas, Pierre, et al. 1972. Vente de l’atelier Maurice Chabas (1862-1948), 250 peintures, aquarelles ou dessins. Vente, Versailles, Hôtel Rameau, 1er octobre 1972 / commissaire-priseur, Me Georges Blache. Versailles: n.p.
Chabas, Maurice. 1921. Psaumes d’amour spirituel. Paris: Éditions de la Revue contemporaine.
Chabas, Maurice. 1914. “ Du Rôle social de l’art.” Pp. 396-400 in Herald of the Star, July. 3:7.
Da Silva, Jean. 1991. Le Salon de la Rose+Croix, 1892-1897. Paris: Syros-Alternatives.
de Palma, Myriam. 2009. Maurice Chabas (1862-1947), peintre et messager spirituel, Musée de Pont-Aven et Musée de Bourgoin-Jallieu. Paris: Somogy.
de Palma, Myriam. 2008. “Maurice Chabas y los mundos cósmicos.” Pp. 394-413 in Cosmos. En busca de los origines; De Kupka a Kubrick, edited by Arnauld Pierre. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Tenerife Espacio de las Artes.
de Palma, Myriam. 2004. “Maurice Chabas (1862-1947) et les mondes de l’au-delà.” Pp. 379-98 in Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art français.
Larmandie, [Comte] Léonce de. 1903. L’Entracte ideal. Paris: Bibliothèque Charconac.
Péladan, Joséphin. 1894. L’Art Idéaliste & Mystique: Doctrine de L’Ordre et du Salon Annuel des Rose + Croix. Paris: Chamuel.
Péladan, Joséphin, and Anatole Marquet de Vasselot. 1894. “Le Salon du Champ de Mars.” La Presse, April 24. 60:no. 696.
Pincus-Witten, Robert. 1976. Occult Symbolism in France: J. Péladan and the Salons de la Rose+Croix. New York and London: Garland Publishing.
Reiss-de Palma, Myriam. 2004. “Maurice Chabas (1862-1947): Du Symbolisme à l’Abstraction. Essai et catalogue raisonné.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Paris: Université of Paris IV – Sorbonne.
Reynaud, Valentine. 1928. Les Trois activités humaines. Esprit scientifique et sentiment religieux. Occultisme et mysticisme. Leurs rapports avec les états sociaux et l’évolution humaine. Ouvrage orné de six dessins à la plume et au lavis de Maurice Chabas. Paris: Les Presses du Cap.
Roux, Alphonse. 1931. In Memoriam Edouard Schuré. Paris: Éditions de la Revue Mondiale.
Verhaeren, Émile. 1892. “Compte rendu.” La Nation (Brussels), November 19.
10 April 2017