CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


A Goodly Company of Spirits: Ethel Le Rossignol (1873-1970) and Her Spirit Paintings
by Massimo Introvigne

From February 22 to March 22, 2014 the Horse Hospital in London hosts a small but quite exceptional exhibition of twenty-one paintings by spirit painter and medium Ethel Le Rossignol (1873-1970).

Constance Ethel Le Rossignol was born in Argentina in a family originally from Jersey, Channel Islands. They eventually returned to London, where Ethel had some formal artistic education. She served as a nurse between 1914-1919 in World War I and left an interesting correspondence with her brother Arthur, documented with more than a hundred photographs. The American University of Notre Dame recently acquired this material as part of their World War I collections, apparently not realizing that the nurse later became a painter of some distinction.

As many other Britons who experienced the tragedies of the War, Ethel turned to Spiritualism and became herself a medium. In 1920, she started channeling a spirit simply known as J.P.F. and producing paintings for which she claimed no credit, insisting that J.P.F. was the real author. J.P.F. also transmitted to Ethel the teachings of a group of advanced spirits, who explained the meanings of the paintings. These teachings were collected in 1933 in the book «A Goodly Company», that Ethel self-published under the imprint The Chiswick Press. They have a distinguished Theosophical flavor, although it is difficult to connect them to any particular orthodoxy or organization.

Of the 44 paintings created by Ethel, or - as she would have insisted - by the spirit, 21 were donated in 1968, two years before the artist died at age 96 in 1970, to the College of Psychic Studies, and have been on display there ever since. The Horse Hospital has now offered their first public exhibition. Other materials by Ethel Le Rossignol occasionally surfaces in public auctions, but her production was quite limited and they remain extremely scarce.

There is currently an international interest in spirit painters and other artists who claimed to be guided by supernatural beings, and academics such as Marco Pasi have devoted several articles and conference papers to the most distinguished of them, including Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) and Hilma af Klint (1862-1944). While Houghton and af Klimt painted in a non-figurative style, Le Rossignol is best seen as an example of the didactic art illustrating Theosophical ideas epitomized by Reginald Machell (1854-1927) in the early years of modern Theosophy. Le Rossignol's distinctive style, which includes an Oriental touch, certainly deserves further study.


Gallery: Photographs by Massimo Introvigne, depicted here with Janet Lee, secretary of the British Theosophical Society

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