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The Portraits of the Masters - Part 1 - Mahatma M. Helps with the K.H. Portrait

Sep 15, 2006 00:14 AM
by danielhcaldwell

"Say to Schmiechen that he will be helped. I myself will guide his 
hands with brush for K[oothoomi]'s portrait."  Master Morya in a 
letter to H.P. Blavatsky, July 1884.


Colonel Henry S. Olcott writes about the painting of the portraits 
of the Mahatmas. In his "A Historical Retrospect – 1875-1896 – of 
the Theosophical Movement" (1896, p. 13), Colonel Olcott recounts:

At New York…I was given the portrait – a profile in black and white 
crayons – of [Master Morya] . . . At Bombay this had been 
photographed in my absence, and a copy of this photograph was with 
me on this European tour [of 1884]. Desirous of getting something 
better, than this amateurish sketch, I asked five of our London 
members, who were professional or skilled amateur painters to 
compete in a friendly way in the attempt to get by intuition a 
clearer view of the Master's face. They willing agreed and, each 
taking the photograph in turn, the five pictures were made and given 
me. Neither, however, were very successful. It was about this time 
that Mr. and Mrs. Schmiechen joined the Society, and I invited the 
former to compete, which he most kindly at once agreed to. The 
marvellous result – the seventh attempt at a portrait – is
known to all of us; his portrait of this Master [Morya], as well as 
the one of the other [Master Koot Hoomi], which he painted from a 
crude sketch in Mr. Sinnett's possession, seeming as life-like as
if the subjects had posed to him in the usual way....

Colonel Olcott also writes in "Old Diary Leaves," Volume III, pp. 
162-163 (1972 printing):

On 13th of June I returned to London in company with Mr. 
Judge. . . . A little while before this I had instituted a friendly 
competition between certain of our London associates who were either 
professional or amateur artists, to try an important psychical 
experiment. . . .

...I wanted to get a better portrait [of Master Morya] if
possible, and bethought me to try whether my sympathetic artistic 
colleagues in London could get clearer, more life-like, spiritual 
glimpses of this divine face. Upon broaching the subject – three
professional and two amateurs – whom I addressed, very kindly and 
willingly consented, and I lent each in turn the photographic copy 
of the original crayon sketch that I had with me.

The results were very instructive. One had got the right idea
of his complexion, another of his profile and a third, my respected 
friend Mme. De Steiger, of the luminous aura that shimmers about his 
head. But neither of the five was, on the whole, a better likeness 
than the New York sketch by Monsieur Harrisse. Before this 
competition was finished, Herr Hermann Schmiechen, a very well-known 
German portrait-painter, domiciled in London, joined the Society 
and, to my great delight, at once agreed to have the inspirational 
test tried with him. The photograph was handed him with no 
suggestion as to how the subject should be treated. He began work 
on 19th June and finished it on 9th July. Meanwhile I visited his 
studio four times alone and once with H.P.B. . . . . Unlike the 
others, who all copied the profile idea of Harrisse, Schmiechen gave 
the face in full front view....

The following 1884 entries --- which I have extracted from Colonel 
Olcott's actual handwritten diary about the painting of Master M.'s 
portrait --- help to give us a better understanding of the timeline 

June 15	". . . In evening Mme. De Steiger brought a 
remarkable portrait of Mahatma M…."
June 20	"…to Schmiechen's, the portrait painter. . . . "
June 23	"…A.M. to Schmiechen…."
June 26	"…Schmiechen's…."
June 28	"Crossed over to Boulogne to meet H.P.B….H.P.B. 
arrived from Paris at 11 p.m…."
June 29	"…retd. with H.P.B. to London…."
July 6	"…lunched with Schiechen's…."
July 9	"…with H.P.B. to Schmiechen's. The portrait of our 
Master enchants us…."
July 11	"…Left for Scotland…."
July 19	"….at 1 left [Manchester] for London…."
July 23	"Left for Germany…."

It was probably sometime between July 9 and July 19 that the Master 
K.H.'s portrait was also painted in London.  Laura C. Holloway wrote:

Mr. [Hermann] Schmiechen, a young German artist, [was] residing in 
London [and] a number of Theosophists gathered at his studio. Chief 
among Mr. Schmiechen's guests was HPB, who occupied a seat facing a 
platform on which was [Schmiechen's] easel. Near him on the platform 
sat several persons, all of them women, with one exception. About 
the room were grouped a number of well-known people, all equally 
interested in the attempt to be made by Mr. Schmiechen.

The most clearly defined memory of that gathering, always in the 
mind of the writer, is the picture of Madame Blavatsky placidly 
smoking cigarettes in her easy chair and two women on the platform 
who were smoking also. She had "ordered" one of these women [Laura 
Holloway herself] to make a cigarette and smoke it, and the order 
was obeyed though with great hesitation, for it was a first attempt 
and even the mild Egyptian tobacco used was expected to produce 
nausea. HPB promised that no such result would follow, and 
encouraged by Mrs. Sinnett, who was also smoking, the cigarette was 
lighted. The result was a curious quieting of the nerves, and soon 
all interest was lost in the group of people about the room, and 
only the easel and the hand of the artist absorbed her attention.

Strange to relate that though the amateur smoker considered herself 
an onlooker it was her voice which uttered the words "begin it," and 
the artist quickly began to outline a head. Soon the eyes of every 
one present were upon him as he worked with extreme rapidity. While 
quiet reigned in the studio and all were eagerly interested in Mr. 
Schmiechen's work, the amateur smoker on the platform saw the figure 
of a man outline itself beside the easel and, while the artist with 
head bent over his work continued his outlining, it stood by him 
without a sign or motion. She leaned over to her friend and 
whispered, "It is the Master KH; he is being sketched. He is 
standing near Mr. Schmiechen."

"Describe his looks and dress," called out HPB. And while those in 
the room were wondering over Madame Blavatsky's exclamation, the 
woman addressed said: "He is about Mohini's height; slight of build, 
wonderful face full of light and animation; flowing curly black 
hair, over which is worn a soft cap. He is a symphony in greys and 
blues. His dress is that of a Hindu—though it is far finer and 
richer than any I have ever seen before—and there is fur trimming 
about his costume. It is his picture that is being made."

HPB's heavy voice arose to admonish the artist, one of her remarks 
remaining distinctly in memory. It was this "Be careful, Schmiechen; 
do not make the face too round; lengthen the outline, and take note 
of the long distance between the nose and the ears." She sat where 
she could not see the easel nor know what was on it.

How many of the number of those in the studio on that first occasion 
recognized the Master's presence was not known. There were psychics 
in the room, several of them, and the artist, Mr. Schmiechen, was a 
psychic, or he could not have worked out so successfully the picture 
that was outlined by him on that eventful day.
Langford, Laura C. [Holloway] "The Mahatmas and Their Instruments." 
Word (New York) July 15, 1912, pp. 200–6.

It is interesting to observe that not only H.P. Blavatsky but also 
the Master Morya himself took an active interest and part in the 
painting of Koot Hoomi's picture.  

Here is what Master M. wrote in a letter to H.P.B.:

"Say to Schmiechen that he will be helped. I myself will guide his 
hands with brush for K[oothoomi]'s portrait."  Master Morya in a 
letter to H.P. Blavatsky, July 1884.

[Continued in Part 2.]

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