Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

Massimo Introvigne

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MIKALOJUS KONSTANTINAS ČIURLONIS TIMELINE

1875 (September 22):  Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born in Varėna, present-day Lithuania.

1878:  The Čiurlionis family moved to Druskininkai, Lithuania.

1885:  Čiurlionis completed the elementary school. Recognizing his gift for music, his teachers recommended to his parents to enroll him in a musical school.

1889-1893:  Čiurlionis attended the musical school of Michał Ogiński in Plungė, Lithuania.

1894-1899:  Čiurlionis studied at the Warsaw Institute of Music, where he earned a diploma in composition.

1900:  Čiurlionis published his first piece of music, Nocturne in F-sharp minor.

1901-1902:  Čiurlionis studied at the Conservatoire of Leipzig, Germany, earning a diploma as teacher of music.

1902-1904:  Čiurlionis lived in Warsaw, where he continued composing but also started seriously devoting himself to painting.

1904-1906:  Čiurlionis studied at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, where his mentor was Theosophist Kazimierz Stabrowski. Through Stabrowski, he was exposed to Theosophy, Spiritualism, and oriental religions. His paintings were exposed in Warsaw and St. Petersburg at exhibitions of works by students of the Warsaw Schools of Fine Arts.

1907:  Čiurlionis became a founding member of the Society of the Lithuanian Art in Vilnius, Lithuania. He met Lithuanian writer Sofija Kymantaitė.

1909 (January 1):  Čiurlionis married Sofija Kymantaitė in Šateikiai, Lithuania. His paintings were featured in international exhibitions and, together with his music, won critical acclaim, but did not guarantee to him a regular income.

1910:  Diagnosed with mental exhaustion, Čiurlionis was admitted in the Czerwony Dwór Sanatorium in Pustelnik, Poland.

1910 (May 30):  Čiurlionis’ daughter, Danutė, was born.

1911 (March 28):  Čiurlionis died at the Czerwony Dwór Sanatorium in Pustelnik, Poland.

BIOGRAPHY

On August 30, 2013, Letters to Sofija opened in theaters in several countries. English director Robert Mullan directed the critically acclaimed movie. [Image at right] It told the fascinating tale of a painter who struggled with poverty, dabbled in Theosophy and other esoteric pursuits, wrote some of the most moving love letters of his time, succumbed to mental illness only one year after his marriage, and was recognized as one of the leading European artists of the twentieth century only several decades after his premature death (see Mullan 2013).

The painter was Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911). He was born in Varėna, in the southeastern Lithuanian region of Dzūkija, on September 22, 1875. At age three, he moved to nearby Druskininkai, a spa town where his father became the city organist. A musician of precocious talent, at age fourteen Čiurlionis was admitted to the Orchestra School of Polish aristocrat Michał Ogiński (1849-1902) in Plungė, in the Lithuanian region of Samogitia. From there, with the financial support of Ogiński, he went on to study in 1889 at the Warsaw Institute of Music, where he earned a diploma in composition un 1899, and in 1901 at the Conservatoire of Leipzig, where he received a diploma as teacher of music in 1902.

In 1900, Čiurlionis published his first piece of music, Nocturne in F-sharp minor, and he regarded himself primarily as a composer until 1903, when he started attending private classes on painting in Warsaw. In March 1904, the School of Fine Arts was reorganized in Warsaw, and Čiurlionis promptly enrolled. His paintings were exposed in Warsaw and St. Petersburg in exhibitions of works by students of the Warsaw Schools of Fine Arts.

Čiurlionis was also a Lithuanian nationalist. In 1907, he became a founding member of  the Society of the Lithuanian Art in Vilnius, Lithuania. In the same year, he met Lithuanian writer Sofija Kymantaitė (1886-1958), an ardent supporter of the cause of Lithuanian independence. The two fell in love, exchanged love letters that later became famous, and married on January 1, 1909. [Image at right] By then, Čiurlionis’ paintings were featured in international exhibitions and, together with his music, won him critical acclaim: but art did not guarantee to the young couple a regular income and they lived in poverty. At the end of 1909, the artist was diagnosed with mental exhaustion. In 1910, he was admitted in the Czerwony Dwór Sanatorium in Pustelnik, Poland. In this final dark period of his life, Čiurlionis still occasionally painted, and on May 30, 1910, received the good news that his daughter, Danutė (1910-1995), was born. Čiurlionis died on March 28, 1911, at the Czerwony Dwór Sanatorium in Pustelnik, Poland. He was only thirty-five years old.

For several reasons, few knew Čiurlionis in the West until the end of the 1970s. His paintings, realized with cheap colors and canvases due to his extreme poverty, were fragile and did not travel well. Most of them were, and still are, in the M.K. Čiurlionis Art Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania, a city not easily reachable by foreign visitors in Soviet times. The first important Western exhibition of Čiurlionis paintings took place in West Berlin in 1979. As new techniques for the safer preservation of his works were discovered, other exhibitions followed, particularly in Italy and Japan, the two countries where Čiurlionis has been most studied.

The name of Čiurlionis has also been associated with several controversies. The idea that Čiurlionis “invented” modern abstract art before Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was originally advanced by Estonian poet and art critic Aleksis Rannit (1914-1985: see Rannit 1984), [Image at right]  and vehemently disputed by Kandinski’s widow, Nina (1896-1980). It has been a main feature of studies about the Lithuanian artist for decades (see Goštautas and Vaičjurgis-Šležas 1994:210-247; Quattrocchi 2000). Supporting Nina Kandinsky in this controversy, German art historian Will Grohmann (1887-1968), claimed that Čiurlionis’ paintings were “reminiscent of works by schizophrenics” (Grohmann 1958:83), although Kandinsky (who probably during the Lithuanian artist’s lifetime saw only black and white photographs of his work) did in fact appreciate them.

Nina Kandinsky wrote in her response to Rannit that “in Čiurlionis’ paintings there is a certain rapport with the painting of the Theosophists, but, I repeat, there is no affinity with the work of Kandinsky” (Kandinsky [1951] 1994:225). Given Kandinsky’s own association with Theosophy, the Russian master’s widow was venturing here on a dangerous path for her theory. The danger, again, was much more practical in the Soviet Union, where any association of Čiurlionis with “works by schizophrenics” and “decadent” occult ideas was likely to cause the exclusion of his paintings from public museums, and the risk of their loss or destruction. Understandably, Čiurlionis’ friends downplayed his association with Theosophy. [Image at right]

Čiurlionis’ widow, Sofija, firmly insisted that her husband was not a member of the Theosophical Society and did not promote Theosophical or other “modern religious” theories. Rannit reported that “Mrs. Sofija Čiurlionis, the widow of the artist, told me in 1940 about the letter the artist had written in 1909 to the Theosophical Society in St. Petersburg, rejecting categorically any relationship to any modern religious or philosophical theories and dogmas in his work” (Rannit 1961:40). Rannit also replied to Nina Kandinsky that “the paintings of Čiurlionis share neither a likeness nor an affinity with the paintings of theosophists” (Rannit [1958] 1994:228). He also quoted the early scholar of Čiurlionis, Nikolai Vorobjov (1903-1954), in support of the idea that “any attempt to explain Čiurlionis’ work by means of occult and theosophic [sic] influences” (Rannit [1958] 1994:228; see Vorobjov 1938) was doomed to fail. A Marxist scholar sympathetic to Čiurlionis, Jonas Umbrasas (1925-1988), noticed the Theosophical connection, but claimed that “his interest in the new ‘modern’ religion of the time, Theosophy, […] appears to have been short lived” (Umbrasas [1967] 1994:396).

For several years, a possible connection between Čiurlionis and Theosophy was mentioned mostly by his opponents, and denied or downplayed by his sympathizers. This situation changed only in the 1980s, through the works of two scholars of Čiurlionis, the Lithuanian-Australian Genovaitė Kazokas (Budreikaitė-Kazokienė, 1924-2015: see Kazokas 2009) and the Italian Gabriella Di Milia (Di Milia 1980, 1983; Di Milia and Daugelis 2010). Both evidenced the influence of esoteric themes and Theosophy on Čiurlionis. Kazokas, originally a dentist, studied history of art in Australia and completed in 1982, when she was 58 years old, her M.A. Dissertation on Čiurlionis at the University of Sydney. She published it in book form only in 2009, when she was eighty-five, thanks to the efforts of Lithuanian pianist Rokas Zubovas, who is Čiurlionis’ great-grandson and played the artist in the 2013 movie Letters to Sofija. Nonetheless, Kazokas’ ideas circulated internationally well before the publication of her book, and were spread inter alia by Vytautas Landsbergis, a musicologist who became the first president of Lithuania after independence (see Zubovas 2009). “Theosophy, according to Kazokas, is the least studied influence on Čiurlionis’ work, yet it was one of the very strongest, as it gave him a way of integrating his childhood experiences of Lithuanian folklore with avant-garde artistic movements” (Kazokas 2009:56).

Di Milia, who married the well-known Italian abstract sculptor Pietro Consagra (1920-2005), was instrumental in introducing Čiurlionis to the West already in the Soviet era. Later, in 2010-2011, she was the curator, together with Osvaldas Daugelis, of the large Čiurlionis exhibition at the Royal Palace in Milan. The title of the exhibition, “Čiurlionis: An Esoteric Journey, 1875-1911,” made immediate reference to the prominence of the esoteric connection in Di Milia’s interpretation.

But not everybody agreed. Distinguished Lithuanian art historian Rasute Andriušytė-Žukienė objected that “neither the popular fascination with the East, nor the enticements of esotericism which appealed to many artists of the time, succeeded in impelling Čiurlionis to deeper and more committed study of any one philosophical trend or religion, let alone its practice” (Andriušytė-Žukienė 2002:6; see Andriušytė-Žukienė 2004).

The question of ’ relationship with Theosophy has been studied in two ways: historically, by reconstructing certain influences and connections in the artist’s life, and iconographically, by examining the themes and symbols in his paintings. The second path is, of course, much more uncertain than the first, although it has been developed by Di Milia. I will focus here on the historical aspects. When Čiurlionis studied at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, its director, who became the Lithuanian artist’s mentor, was the Polish painter Kazimierz Stabrowski (1869-1929). In fact, Stabrowski was only six years older than Čiurlionis. The two became friends, and Čiurlionis credited Stabrowski for making him a professional painter. [Image at right]

Stabrowski was also “one of the few Polish visual artists at this time who made a serious study of mysticism and esoteric doctrines” (Cavanaugh 2000:178; see Dulska and Kotkowska 2013; Hess and Dulska 2017b). He encountered Theosophy when he was a student in St. Petersburg, and became the founding father of Theosophy in Poland (Hess and Dulska 2017a). When Čiurlionis studied under him, Stabrowski was busy spreading Theosophy in Poland. He later joined Anthroposophy (Zdrojewska-Żywiecka 2009:48), but this happened when Čiurlionis was already dead. Concerning Čiurlionis’ studies under Stabrowski in Warsaw, Kazokas wrote that: “The Theosophical Movement […] had a strong believer in the director of the [Fine Arts] School [ie. Stabrowski], who introduced students to its various aspects – spiritualistic séances and hypnotism” (Kazokas 2009:54). Indeed, in a context of strong criticism of Theosophy by both the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, Stabrowski became somewhat controversial for his propagation of Theosophical views in his School (Piwocki 1965:19-20), and was even “accused of practicing occultism and indoctrinating students into it” (Niciński 2011).

Boris Leman (1880-1945), a Russian poet and Anthroposophist, wrote in 1912 the first book about Čiurlionis (Leman 1912). Leman, a good friend of the celebrated poet Mikhail Kuzmin (1872-1936), was “involved in every manner of occultism,” and created with his group of friends an “atmosphere of mystical exaltation” (Malmstad and Bogomolov 1999:133). It is not surprising that Leman paid special attention to Čiurlionis’ “use of experimental psychic phenomena” (Leman 1912:15). Leman reported that the artist experimented with Spiritualist séances, yet ended up showing “little interest” in them. Čiurlionis, according to Leman, was much more fascinated with both reincarnation and hypnotism, and especially with the “philosophical-religious aspect of this phenomenon, and searched passionately for its elucidation in religious, philosophical, and artistic concepts” (Leman 1912:15). His sister, ethnomusicologist Jadvyga Čiurlionytė (1899-1992), later reported that the artist could hypnotize relatives in order to help them to overcome minor ailments, and that he hypnotized even the parish priest in Druskininkai, “telling” him in anticipation what the priest would then repeat in his Sunday sermon (Čiurlionytė 1973:144-46).

These interests, according to Leman, developed precisely during Čiurlionis’ studies in Warsaw, where Stabrowski also introduced him to Hinduism and the religion of the Egyptians. The artist’s brother, Stasys (1887-1943), reported that Čiurlionis participated in Warsaw in “psychological debates,” which included Eastern and ancient religions, hypnosis, and at times “were more like séances and discussions of spiritualistic themes” (Umbrasas 1994:396). Perhaps these “debates” were not formal meetings of Stabrowski’s Theosophical lodge, but they surely featured esoteric themes.

Di Milia (1980, 1983, 2010) suggested that Čiurlionis was also familiar with the theories on arts and colors that Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, derived from his study of the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). There is no direct evidence of this, although Stabrowski in 1904-1906 was already an admirer of Steiner.

There is also no evidence that Čiurlionis was ever a member of the Theosophical Society, and even less of the rumor reported by the Italian futurist poet Carlo Belloli (1922-2003) that the Lithuanian artist in Warsaw “joined Freemasonry and achieved the 30th degree (Kadosh)” (Belloli 1964:109). Becoming a Freemason was comparatively expensive, and Čiurlionis was penniless. However, as a student in Warsaw, Čiurlionis met Stabrowski almost daily for several months, and participated regularly in his professor’s meetings and debates, where Spiritualism, hypnotism, and non-Christian religions were routinely discussed. Since at that time Stabrowski was the leader of the Theosophical movement in Poland, this daily contact with the Polish painter certainly exposed to Theosophy. Indeed, it is hard not to see an allusion to the main emblems of the Theosophical Society in Čiurlionis’ painting Vision (1904-1905), which was exhibited in 1905 at Stabrowski’s School amongst nine other paintings of a series called Fantasy, and features a serpent on a Cross of Tau, which is also the letter “T” for “Theosophy” in Theosophical iconography. [Image at right]

Stabrowski, of course, was not the only teacher of Čiurlionis in Warsaw. He was influenced by the larger Młoda Polska (“Young Poland”) current (Andriušytė-Žukienė 2006). Through one of his Warsaw professors, artist Ferdinand Rushchyts (1870-1936), a Lithuanian by family and culture, although born in present-day Belarus, he was introduced to the mysticism of the Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849), who in turn had spent a part of his youth in Vilnius. Słowacki integrated Eastern and Baltic Pagan religious themes into a somewhat unorthodox Christianity. When Čiurlionis started reading Słowacki, the Młoda Polska intellectuals were engaged in a controversy with the Catholic Church, which tried to ban the poet as heretic. Eventually, Słowacki became one of Čiurlionis’ “favorite authors” (Umbrasas 1994:398). The Lithuanian artist’s widow, Sofija, reported that “she, together with M.K. Čiurlionis often read J. Słowacki” (Umbrasas 1994:400). Słowacki was in turn a favorite of Polish Theosophists. According to the Polish scholar Radoslaw Okulicz-Kozaryn, Słowacki’s poem King-Spirit inspired several paintings by Čiurlionis and in fact, it was “the Lithuanian painter who drew from King-Spirit such artistic consequences as the poet’s [Polish] compatriots were not able to develop” (Okulicz-Kozaryn 2003:68).

Another member of the Theosophical Society, the acclaimed mystical painter and Theosophist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), the husband of Helena Roerich (1879-1955), who claimed to have received by revelation a new teaching called Agni Yoga, also knew Čiurlionis and publicly acknowledged his debt to him (Roerich [1936] 1994). The Lithuanian artist, in turn, did see some of Roerich’s early works in St. Petersburg and did not make much of them, comparing Roerich with Stabrowski unfavorably (Kazokas 2009:69).

An early Italian scholar of Čiurlionis, Andrea Botto, initially supported the Theosophical and esoteric interpretations of Di Milia (Botto 1990a, 1990b). However, by 2003, he wrote that “some twenty years ago, I took a stand in favor of the theory who saw Čiurlionis as connected with the esoteric milieu, particularly Theosophical,” but now he felt “unhappy about this interpretation.” According to Botto, the esoteric interpretations, while including some valid elements, downplayed the crucial influence on Čiurlionis of the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925: Botto 2003:26-27). “I may be wrong, Botto wrote, but I cannot help perceiving that Čiurlionis’ letters are closer in their tune to the vision of the French [Flammarion] than to the Theosophist mystagogues” (Botto 2003:27).

This is an astute observation, since Čiurlionis, who never mentioned Theosophy’s Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) or Steiner in his writings, did explicitly mention Flammarion (see Botto 2003:15-16). In the series Fantasy, which Čiurlionis exhibited in Warsaw in 1905, one painting depicted The World of Mars. [Image at right] The yellow-orange colors of Čiurlionis’ Planet Mars are consistent with speculations in Flammarion’s works. The French astronomer, in his works and in the novels he wrote, “always went back to Mars” (de La Cotardière and Fuentes 1994:237), and described the planet as a favorable environment for the reincarnation of the most elected souls. As reported by Lithuanian sculptor and scholar Juozas Pivoriūnas (1923-1999), Čiurlionis “read all of the popular works of the French astronomer Flammarion” (Pivoriūnas 1965:6). He also mentioned in his correspondence Flammarion’s theories about the constellation Orion.

Lithuanian philosopher Krescencijus Stoškus also claimed that “Flammarion’s influence on Čiurlionis was somewhat greater than it is commonly believed” (Stoškus 1994:424). It did not concern only specific planets, but also a more general non-geocentric worldview, including references to “dying cosmic suns,” “the birth of new luminaries,” angels, non-Christian paradises, and fallen civilizations (Stoškus 1994:424-25).

According to Kazokas, another reason Čiurlionis became so interested in Flammarion was that the French scientist was in turn interested in Lithuania. He believed that Indian and Lithuanian myths and language had a common origin and were among the oldest religious beliefs in history. Flammarion noted, for example, that the Sanskrit devas (gods) correspond to the Lithuanian dievas, that the man is viras in Sanskrit and vyras in Lithuanian, and so on (see Kazokas 2009:82-85). Kazokas quotes as “his [Flammarion’s] book” mentioning Lithuania Astronomical Myths (Kazokas 2009:83). In fact, this book is not by Flammarion. It is a digest of Flammarion’s ideas compiled by John Frederick Blake (1839-1906) and published in 1877 in London (Blake 1877). Later, Flammarion’s interest in Lithuania further developed through his friendship with Lithuanian poet and diplomat Oscar Milosz (1877-1939: see Charbonnier 1996:255-57).

There is no reason to oppose Flammarion’s influence on Čiurlionis to Theosophy’s. Not only, as Kazokas argues, because “Theosophy strengthened his interest in the old Lithuanian past, and at the same time in the related and even older Indian past” (Kazokas 2009:89), thanks to the connection between India and Lithuania advocated by the Flammarion. But also, because Flammarion himself was a prominent Theosophist. The French astronomer became interested in Theosophy at a time when there were no lodges of the Theosophical Society in France. He became a member of the international Theosophical Society in 1880 and was quickly co-opted to serve as one of its international Vice-President, at a time when Blavatsky conceived the groups of Vice-Presidents as a sort of committee of patronage, including authoritative scientists and academics. Flammarion served as Vice-President between 1881-1888. In the latter year, with the appointment of William Quan Judge (1851-1896) as the only Vice-President, the era of semi-honorary Vice-Presidents came to an end. Flammarion, however, remained a Theosophist in good standing. When Lady Caithness (1830-1895) founded in 1883 the Société Théosophique d’Orient et d’Occident, which became in 1884 a branch of the Theosophical Society, Flammarion was among its first members (Delalande 2007, 376), and remained a Theosophist to the end of his life.

When Čiurlionis encountered Flammarion, he did not substitute a purely “scientific” approach to planets, constellations and the origins of the universe to the Theosophical views propagated by Stabrowski. Flammarion’s ideas about the universe derived both from academic and Theosophical literature. As Serge Fauchereau noted in his 1996 book about Čiurlionis, Flammarion’s theories were part and parcel of the Theosophical worldview of the Belle Époque (Fauchereau 1996:55-58).

Čiurlionis was a collector of the Lithuanian popular songs called daïnos from the area around was a collector of the Lithuanian popular songs called daïnos from the area around Druskininkai, and he arranged some forty of them in new musical versions. Pre-Christian Lithuanian folk beliefs were transmitted throughout the centuries through the daïnos. It is impossible to say which beliefs and themes came to Čiurlionis from Theosophy, and which came from Lithuanian folk culture. Some ideas may well derive from both. In Čiurlionis’ Sonata of the Stars, Andante (1908) shows a pyramid-like structure topped with a bird-like angel. A horizontal stripe represents the Milky Way (see Kazokas 2009:232-34). [Image at right] The Milky Way, also known as the Way of the Birds, played a prominent role in pre-Christian Lithuanian religion. It is where the souls of the deceased dwelled. Pyramids and the different levels of the divine world, on the other hand, are recurring themes in the Theosophical literature. They are also a favorite subject of Čiurlionis, and it can be argued that the artist’s approach to pyramids also influenced the milieu of contemporary Lithuanian esoteric movements (Ališauskienė and Introvigne 2015).

Čiurlionis also “firmly believed in reincarnation” (Kazokas 2009:80) and the pre-existence of human souls, both central Theosophical tenets. To his future wife Sofija he wrote that “our beginning is somewhere in the infinity before all ages” (Kazokas 2009:81), and that “a very long time ago, and definitely not once, we have already changed our form. But the memory is weak, and to recall it requires extraordinary concentration” (Kazokas 2009:80). Although Čiurlionis rarely explained the meaning of its paintings, interpreters have seen in News (1905) the soul depicted as a bird caught at sunrise, or perhaps sunset, between one life and the other. [Image at right]

Čiurlionis’ “Supreme Being” is called Rex, and is “omnipresent” in his paintings (Kazokas 2009:86). In Rex (1909) we discover that in fact there are two Supreme Beings hierarchically ordained. “The light-colored unit, comprising the planet [Earth] and Rex, is enclosed by a bigger image of a second Rex” (Kazokas 2009:258). This may not  be orthodox Blavatskyan Theosophy, but it is not Lithuanian Catholicism either, and keeps a certain Theosophical flavor. [Image at right]

I would, of course, not argue that Theosophy was the only significant influence on Čiurlionis. He was exposed to the philosophy of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), probably not in Leipzig, where both Wundt taught and Čiurlionis studied in 1901-1902, but in Warsaw. There, a pupil of Wundt, Adam Mahrburg (1855-1913), lectured on philosophy in the salon of the wealthy Wolman family, which befriended and protected the young Čiurlionis (Umbrasas 1994:397). Wundt’s ideas probably alerted Čiurlionis to the importance of psychology for the arts. Wundt, however, having attended Spiritualist séances conducted by the controversial medium Henry Slade (1835-1905), was quite skeptical when it came to paranormal phenomena or the occult (see Wundt 1879), an attitude for which he was criticized by Blavatsky herself (Blavatsky 1879).

Another significant influence on Čiurlionis was Japanese art, particularly by Katsushita Hokusai (1760-1849), with whom he probably became familiar in Warsaw or during his 1906 visit to Prague. Antanas Andrijauskas, a leading figure in comparative cultural studies in Lithuania, argued that Čiurlionis’ interest in Hokusai was quite independent from his interests in India and other Asian cultures, that he may have derived from Theosophy (Andrijauskas 2011). It was more part of a general fascination with Japan among European artists and intellectuals of his time.

Yet another artist mentioned explicitly in Čiurlionis’ letters as influential on him was the Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), whose Isle of the Dead was immensely popular and may have influenced several paintings of the Lithuanian artist, including the early Tranquility (1904: Goštautas 1994:370). [Image at right] Indeed, the geography of non-Mediterranean countries may also have influenced a certain approach to landscape and nature. American art historian Robert Rosenblum (1927-2006) explicitly included Čiurlionis in his celebrated study of the “Northern Romantic tradition” in modern European art (Rosenblum 1975:173).

Theosophy remains, nonetheless, a relevant influence on Čiurlionis. His experience was different from these artists’, such as Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) or Lawren Harris (1885-1970), who were active members of the Theosophical Society. He may rather be compared to the Czech painter František Kupka (1871-1957), who experimented with hypnosis, gained his life for a while as a Spiritualist medium, was inspired by old Czech folk beliefs, and, although he became familiar with Theosophical doctrines, was never a formal member of the Theosophical Society (see Mládek 2011). Both Čiurlionis and Kupka came to a more abstract way of painting via “symbolism,” now a contested category in art history. And it was an aging Kupka who first introduced Čiurlionis to the critics of a country where he will be re-discovered and studied earlier than elsewhere, Italy, when he showed to Carlo Belloli some black and white reproductions of the Lithuanian artist’s paintings (Belloli 1964, 6).

What Čiurlionis, Kandinsky, Kupka, Harris, Mondrian, and several other artists, had in common was that certain elements of the Theosophical worldview, and a certain Theosophical flavor, emerged here and there in their art, even if they do not try to “preach” any specific doctrine through their paintings. Rather, Theosophy was one among many references which persuaded them that “a spiritual world of perfect cosmic harmony” (Bauduin 2013:432) was a dimension they may be able to reach through their art, achieving at the same time an ecstatic experience for themselves and the possibility of inducing in others spiritual feelings of a harmony transcending this material world.

IMAGES**
**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Poster for the movie Letters to Sofija.
Image #2: Čiurlionis and Sofija.
Image #3: Jurii Pavlovič Annenkov (1889-1974), Portrait of Alexis Rannit (1970).
Image #4: Čiurlionis.
Image #5: Čiurlionis as a student of the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, exhibiting his series Fantasy in Warsaw (1905).
Image #6: Čiurlionis, Vision (1904-1905).
Image #7: Čiurlionis, The World of Mars (1904-1905).
Image #8: Čiurlionis, Sonata for the Stars: Andante (1908).
Image #9: Čiurlionis, News (1905).
Image #10: Čiurlionis, Rex (1909).
Image #11: Čiurlionis, Tranquility (1904).

REFERENCES

Ališauskienė, Milda and Massimo Introvigne. 2015. “Lithuanian Occulture and the Pyramid of Merkinė: Innovation or Continuity?” Pp. 411-40 in Nordic New Religions, edited by James R. Lewis and Inga Bardsen Tøllefsen, Boston and Leiden: Brill.

Andrijauskas, Antanas. 2011. “M.K. Čiurlionis and the East.” Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 57,4:65-78.

Andriušytė-Žukienė Rasute. 2006. “Influences of ‘Młoda Polska’ [Young Poland] on Early Čiurlionis Art.” Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 52,1:46-65.

Andriušytė-Žukienė Rasute. 2004. M.K. Čiurlionis: Tarp Simbolizmo ir Modernizmo. Vilnius: Versus Aureus.

Andriušytė-Žukienė Rasute. 2002. The Art of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: At the Junction of Two Epochs. Vilnius: Organisation Committee Frankfurt.

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Post Date:
22 August 2017

 

 

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