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Painting Therapy

Liane Collot d’Herbois was born near Tintagel in Cornwall, on December 17th, 1907. She was the only child of a French aristocratic father, and a Scottish mother. They were called Rene and Elizabeth. She lived mainly with her grandmother, as the parents did not seem to accept her presence in their lives very easily. Her father was also a painter, and once when Liane discovered his studio and began painting on one of his canvases, he was so angry that he threw her down the stairs.

In1912, when she was five, the father decided that he wanted to try his hand at growing oranges in Australia. Liane went with them on the long steam- boat trip to Perth. Here she began to know and love her mother, but remained in fear of her father. She tells a strange story of being ‘sold’ as a punishment to a Chinese laundry man, and walking away with him not knowing if she would see her parents again. She was in fact returned after a week, but the experience left her in a vulnerable state, unable to trust her own parents. After just one year of being in Australia, the mother decided to go back to England and took Liane with her. The parents later divorced and Liane never saw her father again.

Liane was strongly connected to the nature of this part of the world, the wide open, wind-swept moors, the ever-restless Atlantic Ocean where sea spray and sunlight has such a powerful meeting. Dr Margarethe Haushka writes: “It was significant for her life that she was born in Cornwall, in the place where, in the play of colour elements above the sea, the knights of the Round Table experienced the approach of the high sun spirit, the Christ, and his immersion into the etheric aura of the earth.” (Rudolf Steiner has spoken about this in his lecture cycle, ‘True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation).’1

Liane had developed into a strong willed little child, and was a force to be reckoned with. She was at home running about the rough moorland in that part of the world, and seemed to relish the drama of wild play and confrontations. She was quick to come to the defence of someone weaker or in trouble, and would fight any one who teased or wanted to harm any animal that she looked after.

In 1915, at the age of 8 she became seriously ill, and was actually pronounced dead. The obituary telegrams had already been sent out when she started to show signs of life again. Liane says of this time that it was so difficult and painful to re-enter her body. She changed completely from this time. Her curly red hair changed to straight black hair, and she became more serious, more compassionate and more generous. Her sympathy was quickly aroused, and instead of judging people, she tried to understand them. During this time she remembers being very excited and impressed with the visit of some Russian women, and feeling that she was seeing real people for the first time. Later the connection with the East was to become very important to her.

When she was nine years old she came across an artist painting on the beach near where she was living, and was enraptured with his painting: “Everything was golden. He did not notice me. He was painting the mist filled air; the spume, in which tremendous colour came into being. It was the most beautiful combination of elements.” Liane began painting using any materials that she could get her hands on. She sold her first painting when she was eleven, and this enabled her to buy better painting equipment.

She lived with her grandmother while she attended a local school at Camelford. This gave her the chance to come into contact with real music for the first time, an experience, which she found deeply moving. The school had a library and she began to read widely. In particular she resonated deeply with the ideas of Plato. She had always felt from an early age that everything was alive, that everything had an essence, but now through the influence of Plato’s worldview, she started to experience the world in a lighter more joyful way.

Liane’s mother married again, to a man called Bennet. Liane at fourteen years of age, went to live with them. There was a strong mutual dislike between herself and the stepfather. He was a man who had made his money gambling on horses. The family’s fortunes were erratic and home life reflected this; sometimes they ate with aristocrats, at other times they were so poor they sat on wooden crates. Liane was obliged to earn money, during these times of poverty. She made sculptures for Rolls- Royce and it is rumoured that she created the little figurine called the spirit of ecstasy that graced the bonnet of some of the Rolls-Royce models. She also designed advertisements for billboards. She continued to paint and says that painting kept her alive during this time. She would have liked to have done a training in connection with making medicine, but her step father was against it.

In 1924, when she was seventeen, she went to study at the Birmingham Central School of Arts and Crafts. She recalls how for the first time in her life she was among people like herself. “It was the time of my life.” She was busy all day learning how to paint and to draw and making many new friends. She is remembered for the high standard of her work, as one student recalls: “People had a very high opinion of her, her work was hung in the great central hall. Her work was very good, she made landscapes with a bold, powerful character, more dramatic than Cezanne and more formed than Turner.” For her final examination she took her inspiration from Leonardo’s Last Supper. She was fascinated both by the painter, and the picture, recognizing the depth of Leonardo’s connection to the Christ Being. Liane’s excellent standard of workmanship won her a scholarship to continue her studies at the British Museum in London.

She explored many spiritual streams, and for a while became a Buddhist. She started to work on herself in a new way, gradually coming to an acceptance of her destiny. She was also able to overcome the antipathy that she felt for Bennet, her stepfather: “It changed me completely ---- Bennet and my mother were shocked, because I had become a good person; they thought I was ill!”

In the spring of 1928, when she was twenty, she gave a lecture on Buddhism in a Unitarian church in Birmingham. After the lecture Olive Mathews, one of the pioneering priests of the Christian Community, approached her and told her that her message had an affinity with the spiritual insights that Rudolf Steiner had brought into the world. She had come across anthroposophy before, but now took up her reading again with re-newed interest. Later she wrote: “Buddhism is still my bedrock; it teaches us to love mankind. From there the step to anthroposophy is but a small one.”

During this time she obtained permission from the mayor of Birmingham to carry out an experiment in the local schools. This was to include primary schools right up to and including university. She wanted to work together with the teachers to show them how they could observe the drawings and paintings of their students, to determine the student’s temperament and possible tendencies towards various illnesses. A text on the four temperaments by Rudolf Steiner formed the basis for this experiment. Liane was able to offer much help and guidance to the teachers, and her collaboration with them was a great success.

At twenty-one years of age she had an important meeting with Rev. Adam Bittleston, another priest of the Christian Community. This gave her the wish to seek out an anthroposophic environment where she could use her knowledge and love of painting to help other people.

In 1927 she became involved with Sunfield School in Clent, a home for children with special needs. The medical work was under the guidance of Ita Wegman, a visiting doctor, from Switzerland. Dr. Wegman, together with Rudolf Steiner had developed many new medical and therapeutic insights. These formed the basis of the curative work at Sunfield.

Dr. Hilmar Walter joined the work there and she translated an important lecture cycle by Rudolf Steiner, ‘Das Wesen der Farben’ into ‘Colour’. This enabled Liane to study the lectures, and the reading of the chapter entitled ‘Light and Darkness’2 in particular changed her whole understanding and perception of colour. “Suddenly I realised what I had to do. I saw that it was an immense task, but I said to myself: ‘even if I only do a small part of this on earth so that others can go further, then I will have done enough.’ The content of this lecture made such a great impression on me because it confirmed something. I already had an idea of these things purely through sense perception. I was always interested in taking up and using what I called darkness. I knew that darkness itself could be considered as the will. It is related to the spiritual earth. There is no word that really encompasses it – hope, chaos, life, the will, warmth, gravity, the strength to support, physical laws-----.” This invisible darkness plays a pivotal role in Liane’s colour theory.

At Sunfield, she lived a life of total dedication to the children and there was really no time for reading or painting. Liane was to work at the home for seven years. She loved the work because she loved the children. She had a great sense of humour which helped her to reach the children. For example to a child who often kept his mouth open: “You should keep your teeth warm you know!” after 3 years Liane started to paint with the children, and also to paint pictures which depicted different themes to do with the festivals. It was these pictures that impressed Ita Wegman so much, that she invited Liane to come to Ascona to paint as much as she wanted.

In 1935 she left England and went to Arlesheim, in Switzerland, where Dr Wegman had founded a clinic. A house was set up for her in Ascona, where she continued her research into all aspects of colour. She also made plant colours and painted. Between 1939 and 1945 she was invited to work in Dr Wegman’s clinic. Here the patients were treated on the basis of indications given by Rudolf Steiner. Many therapies were being developed and made available to complement the healing process. Dr. Ita Wegman was busy in all areas as a doctor, teacher, guide and friend. Liane had many opportunities in the clinic to develop her therapeutic approach, working out of the laws of light and darkness. She also worked in a nearby curative home for children with special needs.

In Arlesheim she met Dr. Margarethe Hauschka, one of the physicians working with Dr.Ita Wegman, who had been asked to develop a spiritual-scientific way in which the arts might be put to therapeutic use.

Dr. Margarethe Hauschka and Liane Collot d’Herbois had a great understanding and respect for each other’s work. They supported and helped each other in different trainings and initiatives. Years later when Liane wrote her book on ‘Colour’, Margarethe Hauschka wrote in the foreword, “Just as Philipp O. Runge in the past century replied to Goethe’s theory of colour with his own work, this book is an echo or a testimony for what Rudolf Steiner taught about colour, going a step higher than Goethe. . . . This book luminously leads the way to a future spiritual conception of colour and its application in art.” 3

Meanwhile in 1937 the political and economic situation was such that for a time Liane had to move to Ita Wegman’s house in Paris. The house became a venue for doctors, clients and many other visitors. It was here that Liane met Dr. Karl König, curative educator and founder of the ‘Camphill Movement’. Later she was to visit and spend time in some of the Camphill centres. Three of Liane’s frescoes are to be seen in the chapel of Glencraig, near Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Eventually Liane was able to return to Arlesheim to be with Ita Wegman and continue her work there. One of her commissions was to paint frescoes in the nearby Chapel of La Motta, in Brissago. The urn containing the ashes of Ita Wegman rests in that chapel.

It was clear that she had a remarkable gift for reading people’s constitutions,
temperaments and illnesses in their paintings. This was especially helpful for teachers and doctors seeking more insights into their pupils or clients.

Alongside her painting therapy Liane also continued to develop her own artistic work.

In 1946 Liane met the painter and sculptor Francine van Davelaan, a gifted painter, portrait artist, sculptor and glass engraver. Francine recognised Liane as a master painter and made a total sacrifice of her own career to support Liane in her work. Liane moved to Holland to be nearer to Francine, and in 1949 she found a place to live, in a small tower in the grounds of castle Frymerson, near Odilienberg, in Limburg. In 1951 Liane’s mother and stepfather came to live with her, untill her mother’s death in 1953. Her stepfather subsequently returned to England. Francine moved in during this time to help care for the parents. Francine became Liane’s life long companion, and was very dear to her. They remained together for the next 33 years untill Francine’s death in1984. During this time Francine arranged many teaching trips abroad. They went regularly to Aberdeen in Scotland and to London to work with a permanent group of students. They also travelled together through Europe giving courses, and in 1964 they made a tour of America. In Holland, a group of people gathered around Liane - artists wishing to learn how to paint out of the laws of light and darkness. They became known as the ‘Magenta Group’.

In 1979 her book ‘Colour’ (part one) was published in English by Stiching Magenta, Driebergen, Holland. Kenneth Pride, who reviewed the book in the Christian Community Journal (October 1980) wrote: “Those who have been fortunate enough to see the paintings of Liane Collot d’Herbois will recall the magical profundity of her vision and its luminous cosmic quality. ------- This book is primarily to be pondered on, and worked with in painting, but it will also be of interest to everyone who strives to bring imagination to the world drama of light and darkness ---- a real path to the spirit in art.” Colour (part two) was published in 1981, and continues to open the way to a profound understanding of how colours are continually welling into the sense world out of the mother background of the interchanging atmosphere of light and darkness.

In 1978 when Liane was seventy one, she was introduced to Dr. Paolo Walburgh Schmidt, an anthroposophic doctor from Leiden. He, together with painting therapist Josine Hutchison-de Lanoy Meijer, were searching for a different approach to painting therapy. They immediately recognised the therapeutic potential of Liane’s approach to light, darkness and colour. The essence being that the three-fold cosmic space of light, colour and darkness is an image of the three- foldness of mankind: spirit, soul and body. Light and darkness are the doors to the incarnation path of the ego, both from above and from below, through the upper pole and the lower pole of man. A very fruitful and long standing collaboration began between them from this time onwards.

In 1983 and 1984 Liane was asked to give lessons in curative painting to a group of therapists and doctors in the Iona building in Driebergen. These teachings were gathered together and edited by Margreet Meijer. They form the content of the book: ‘Light, darkness and colour in Painting Therapy’, which was published in 1993 by the Goetheanum Press.

The therapeutic insights that Liane shared during this time gave the necessary background for a training to be set up. The impulse was carried by Josine Hutchinson and her husband, Dr. Paul Hutchinson, in close collaboration with Liane and Dr. Walburgh Schmidt. In 1986 the first students started to receive their training. As the number of participants increased it became necessary to develop a more formal framework, and a Foundation was set up. Liane herself gave it the name of The Emerald Foundation. The school has its home in The Hague. Liane was always available to give lectures to the students right up until her final illness. Her words were always inspirational and enlightening. She also made time to see students individually, sometimes helping to diagnose a patient’s work, sometimes giving more personal advice. Whatever the topic, her love of the earth - the body of Christ - and her love and perception of the spiritual in all of creation, shone through her words.

Liane’s own artistic painting work continued throughout her life and she was still receiving commissions right up to the end. She was very prolific in her output of artwork and her paintings are now to be found in countries all over the world.

In December 1997 there was a wonderful celebration of her paintings at the Goetheanum in Dornach. The exhibition attracted people from all over the world and the rooms where her pictures were hung took on the hallowed atmosphere of a chapel. She was able to be there herself and to speak about her work to those that were assembled. It was a fitting moment or recognition for her life long dedication to painting, working out of the laws of light, darkness and colour.

In the summer of 1999 Liane’s health declined seriously and she was confined to bed. She suffered a great deal of pain and was treated in hospital for a while. On the 17th September 1999 she passed across the threshold.

1. Rudolf Steiner. True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation. (Torquay, Devon, 11th-22nd August 1924) Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1969, 1985. (GA243)
2. Rudolf Steiner. ‘Light and Darkness—Two World Entities’ (Dornach, 5th December 1920) in ‘Colour’. Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1992. (GA291)
3. Liane Collot d’Herbois. Colour. Stichting Magenta, Driebergen, The Netherlands 1985.
4. Liane Collot d’Herbois. Light,Darkness and Colour in Painting Therapy. The Goetheanum Press. 1993.

A few of the biographical details have been taken from ‘Colour as a Path to the Maternal Darkness’ by Maurits in t’Veld.
Sally Martin, Mapleton, May 2007.

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