SAVING THE LIVES OF ANGELS
The writer and artist SASHA CHAITOW’S exhibition and commentary on the work of the renowned Symbolist JOSÉPHIN PÉLADAN. A Review.
Joséphin Péladan was central to the late Symbolist and ‘Decadent’ period of art in France and beyond. He was a dominant figure of the fin de siècle through his prodigious output of writing, his passionate beliefs – which insisted on the transformational beauty that should be inherent in art – his charisma and force of character, and his sheer eccentricity. He motivated and offered patronage to the artists whom he favoured and who qualified to be within his exclusive group. Exclusive in that his criteria was exact and exacting. Hence for the famous, massively attended, salon exhibition of la Rose+Croix in 1892, there was the following dictate to the artists:
‘The Order forbids any contemporary representations, rustic, military, flowers, animals, genres such as history, and portraits or landscapes. But it welcomes all allegories, legends, mysticism and myth, as well as expressive faces if they are noble, or nude studies if they are beautiful. Because you must make BEAUTY to enter the Rose+Croix Salon.’
Such criteria, though rigorous and specific to Péladan, give a good idea of the general aims of the Symbolist Art movement, though beauty, as a requirement, is not always so evident. Péladan presided over the Rose+Croix as the Mage, Sär Merodack, a title substantiated by his claim to a lineage of Babylonian royalty. Dressed in priest-like robes and with a mass of black hair and long beard, it has become easy to assume him to be just a peculiar man with equally peculiar ideas – therefore, not to be taken seriously. It is in this way that time has strangely and unfairly discounted a man of remarkable ability, profound thought, exceptional idealism, and a marked ability to enable those within his circle. For the English-speaking world, there is the added factor that nothing from his enormous output – novels, reviews, articles – has been translated.
We should therefore be considerably thankful for the tireless and scholarly work of Dr Sasha Chaitow. Her doctoral research was on the life and work of Péladan, and in her lectures and articlesshe has shone light upon that, which to most admirers of Symbolist Art, would have remained impossibly obscure. Not only is Sasha Chaitow a respected academic in the field of esotericism, she is as well, a practising artist and gallerist.
Her exhibition of 2016 entitled ‘Saving the Lives of Angels’, has offered an enlightening study, through her oil paintings and accompanying commentaries, into the Platonically influenced but highly individual esoteric philosophy of Péladan. Though she gives a disclaimer, stating that his views are not necessarily hers, she clearly has expressed them with sympathy as well as understanding.
If you can get hold of a copy of the exhibition catalogue – do so, as it gives such a clear description of Péladan’s views, aided and enhanced by her own artistic interpretations, painted in ‘neo-symbolist’ style.
If not, there is her website: www.sashachaitow.co.uk , which also offers access to her written commentaries, and her paintings, drawings and prints.
This review by William Rose