- The Occult Art of L'ordre de la Rose+Croix du Temple et du GraalSâr Joséphin Péladan's R+C Salons, 1892–1897
French novelist, playwright, and occultist, Joséphin Péladan (1858–1918), was a champion of the international wave of symbolism that emerged in Europe during the 1880s. Péladan believed that art had the potential to link humans with the divine, and he professed that all true art was essentially religious in nature. In 1892, Péladan established a fraternal Rosicrucian order: L'Ordre de la Rose+Croix du Temple et du Graal (R+C). Claiming the title Sâr Joséphin Péladan, he served as leader of the R+C from 1892–1897. It was in affiliation with the R+C that Péladan curated five interdisciplinary salons between 1892 and 1897. The R+C Salons presented the work of artists from various nations, including France, Belgium, Spain, the U.S., Java, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Many contemporary critics and artists have come to think of the R+C Salons as seminal events in the development of abstract and modern art. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City acknowledged the significance of Péladan's salons with an exhibit titled Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897, which ran from June 30 to October 4, 2017.1 This exhibition included a wide selection of works that were exhibited in the five R+C Salons that Péladan curated.
Viewing the Mystical Symbolism exhibit revealed that no particular artistic style was used to create a sense of aesthetic unity. This stylistic variety in the Guggenheim exhibit was not a curatorial miscalculation. Critics who viewed the R+C Salons in the late nineteenth century commented on their lack of aesthetic unity. Despite the variety of styles exhibited in R+C Salons, some critics who viewed the original R+C Salons claimed it was Péladan's teachings—not aesthetic style— [End Page 98] that established a consistency of concept, content, and theme which enabled the various works presented to "hold together."2
Like W.B. Yeats and Andrei Bely, Péladan's passion for and belief in the occult was a defining aspect of his life and work. During his career, Péladan wrote several volumes dealing with occult theory and practice, including L'Occulte Catholique (1898) and L'Art Idéaliste et Mystique (1911). Before founding L'Ordre de la Rose+Croix, he was a member of the Rosicrucian Order that was founded by the poet Stanislas de Guaita. In addition to his works on occult theory, Péladan wrote plays and novels that gave expression to his esoteric principles. The R+C Salons were presented as an expression of the doctrines of the L'Ordre de la Rose+Croix. Péladan was so popularly associated with the occult in his time that Parisian journalist, Jules Huret, distinguished Péladan from other Symbolists artists and playwrights by placing him in a category of lesser known "magi" artists who all shared an understanding of "the occult as a synthesis of philosophy, science, and a way of life."3 Many of Péladan's contemporaries accepted his proclaimed belief in the occult.
Be they critics or collaborators, many of Péladan's contemporaries acknowledged that occultism was central the curation of the R+C Salons. Exploring Péladan's occult teachings today can provide a sense of thematic cohesion to the contemporary viewer of the works that were presented at the Mystical Symbolism exhibit. Without an understanding of Péladan's spiritual ideas, the Guggenheim's collection of works might appear to be little more than a discordant—albeit fascinating—assortment of paintings, prints, architectural designs, and decorative objects.
THE CATHOLIC OCCULT
Learning about what Péladan referred to as "the Catholic Occult" will help twentyfirst-century critics disentangle one of the most puzzling aspects of Péladan's work: namely, the manner in which he linked Catholicism to his avant-garde agenda. In his Symbolist Theatre: The Formation of an Avant-Garde, Frantisek Deak comments on the consternation felt by critics who...