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Post-War Works - Part 7: The House of Fulfillment

It is of significance that in the same year a novel by Lily Adams Beck was published called The House of Fulfillment. In it a familiar character appears under the name of Brynhild Ingmar, a sculptress. The Manchester City News of Saturday, February 4, 1928, revealed that the sculptress in the book was indeed Katharine Maltwood:

There is great intensity of feeling and considerable intensity of thinking in this unusual story. Adams Beck has derived her inspiration from the ancient Indian philosophy of the Upanishads and has re-created the traditions and methods of this philosophy in a modern setting exclusively Indian. By one slight human incident the story as a story is made to hold together and the interest maintained throughout the exotic scenes of which the novel is mainly composed. These are concerned with the priestly agencies of the monasteries of India: their efficacy in establishing the equilibrium of life and the making of man's mastership of his own soul. The result as exemplified in the various characters is convincing, none more so than in the exposition of the sculptor in the character of Brynhild Ingmar, who is the thinly veiled personality of Katharine Maltwood, the well known London sculptor. The analysis of the works of this accomplished artist, unusual as such a procedure is in a novel, adds greatly to the interest of a work which is as powerful as it is unusual.

The setting for the story is high among the mountains of Kashmir where a rich and cultured English couple, the Dunbars, had come to live and study. With them lived Brynhild Ingmar, a Canadian sculptress of genius, who attributed her phenomenal powers to the study of yoga. She is shown in an advanced stage of Buddhist perfection and in superhuman accord with nature and its every mood.

They are joined by Cardonald, a man running away from his conscience, and at the beginning of the quest for self fulfilment. The novel unfolds into the bizarre love story of Cardonald and the radiant Brynhild Ingmar. Cardonald begins the study of Yoga and is put through its exercises in mental concentration, its physical discipline and its emphasis on the side by side development of body and mind.

The characters set off on an expedition to a remote Tibetan monastery of ascetic Lamas in search of ancient manuscripts of Ultimate Wisdom. The description of the journey with its high mountain passes, flooded rivers, savage bandits and bizarre adventures is set out in the jewelled and exotic imagery typical of Mrs. Beck's literary style.

M964.1.356, the Holy Grail, by Katharine Maltwood, 1922.
The Holy Grail
by Katharine Maltwood, 1922

The sculptures mentioned as belonging to the heroine are several of Katharine Maltwood's major pieces. They are likewise described in a rich and intense style and are given a philosophical interpretation. The first work we come across is The Holy Grail which in the novel is called Ecstacy, the Buddhist Angel or is more preferably given its Indian name, Samadhi. It is discussed at the first meeting of Cardonald and the sculptress where it is revealed that her work has been exhibited in the West for two years under the signature Narendra. It had caused a sensation in Europe and was especially praised for recapturing "the inspiration of the ancient great frescoes and sculptures of early Buddhist art in the net of masterly modern techniques." To Cardonald the works were "the very voice of Asia;" however he at first refuses to believe their author Narendra was a woman. Of Samadhi he exclaims "That's a man's work Women do charming things, but they don't do that." The sculptress retorts angrily by telling him he has "the true English idea of the inferiority of women in matters of art" and that nothing but experience will rid him of his disbelief.38 This makes an interesting reference to the renowned masculinity of Katharine Maltwood's style and her sympathies with women's emancipation.

A few days later Cardonald visits Brynhild Ingmar's studio which the hero describes as "high pitched as a church, bare, austere, but beautiful for from the roof hung curtains of some thin yellow stuff, controlling the light and dividing great length into what I felt to be antechapels leading up to some inner shrine: themselves peopled with dreams made visible, but yet a highway to the supreme expression of some one perception..."39 That it is one and the same as Katharine Maltwood's Kensington studio is obvious.

M964.1.364, Mirage, by Katharine Maltwood, 1927.
by Katharine Maltwood, 1927

The work to first attract Cardonald's attention is Mirage. He experiences a vision of a vast sea of sand with camel and rider drawn down and absorbed by the great spirit of the desert. He says the work "reminds and reveals all the experiences of illusion,"40 referring to the Buddhist concept of the illusion of self, separateness and the earthly idea of time as opposed to a true awareness of harmonious unity. Thus the man who is hypnotized by this illusion or "Mirage" sinks to his ruin.

Brynhild Ingmar then shows him her latest work which she explains "completes the mirage". This is the Path of Enlightenment which Cardonald describes as follows: "I saw the Buddha after his enlightenment looking out over the world in a deep dream of peace...looking downward he beheld the earth in all its grief and crimes with the serenity of perfect comprehension." Brynhild Ingmar tells him "The first was Mirage, This is the truth."41

M964.1.363, the Path of Enlightenment, by Katharine Maltwood, 1922.
The Path of Enlightenment
by Katharine Maltwood, 1922

Katharine Maltwood's bronze relief Aspiration is discussed slightly later when Cardonald returns to the studio for further contemplation. He feels the eagle feathers are a token of remembrance of the uncapturable and far out of reach that would wing life forward to higher heights of understanding. To Cardonald this was as much attainment as one could hope to achieve in the "crippled state of consciousness which most of us are content to call living."42

The final work to be observed is The Mills of God which Brynhild Ingmar calls "my Evolution" alluding to the Buddhist evolution of the soul through reincarnation towards ultimate perfection. In terms of this philosophy the group represents "cosmic millstones grinding chaos into order and beauty."43 Katharine Maltwood seems to have approved of the interpretations made by Lily Adams Beck since she recommended The House of Fulfilment in her will for a fuller description of these sculptures.

The character of Brynhild Ingmar also seems to reveal something of Katharine Maltwood's own personality and approach to art. To strangers Brynhild appeared cold and rather aloof but to those who knew "the secret" she was a genius of singular beauty. She is shown to have no trace of self consciousness and takes no personal pride in her artistic achievements. Her work is understood as the expression of a higher level of consciousness, achieved through the discipline of Yoga, which allowed her to perceive beyond the limits of reality. By realizing her oneness with the surrounding world and by losing all sense of present time Brynhild was able to attain supernormal powers. Her sculptures represent this realized knowledge, "each was a world in itself, developing the utmost spiritual meaning latent in matter."44

To say that Katharine Maltwood had achieved such advanced powers through her study of Yoga would be an exaggeration, however she was undoubtedly influenced by Eastern philosophy in her life style and general approach to art. Indeed, in the preface of the novel Mrs. Beck dedicates the story to her as "a sculptor more deeply imbued with the spirit of Asia than any other known to me."



All content on this page is copyright © 30 January, 2006
Rosemary Brown, the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, and the University of Victoria

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