1959 – Lennart Segerstråle: ‘Art must be dangerous to evil’

By Mary Lean

04/05/2021
Lennart Segerstrale

 

Lennart Segerstrale

In 1959, a vast fresco – At the stream of life – was unveiled on the wall of the dining room of the Caux Palace. Its creator, the Finnish artist Lennart Segerstråle, chose the universal image of water to represent his vision of the Caux conference centre: a place where people come to the source to quench their inner thirst, and then take the water of life out to a thirsty world. In the centre, a dark figure bends to see himself mirrored in the well and rises, transformed, radiant with life.

Then aged 68, Lennart Segerstråle was Finland’s most famous animal painter, and well-known for his monumental frescos and murals. The Finnish National Gallery, which owns 105 of his works, describes the ‘juxtaposition of good and evil’  as a central theme.

‘Segerstråle’s works dealt with many of the moral issues of the post-war period, such as the problems of developing countries, racial conflicts and environmental issues,’ states their website. Segerstråle himself maintained that ‘the art of the future must be dangerous to evil’.

 

Lennart Segerstrale fresco dining-room making of 1959
Creating the fresco, 1959

 

Just before World War II, Segerstråle had taken part in a Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) conference in Aulanko, Finland, which had seen reconciliations between people bitterly divided by Finland’s civil war, 20 years earlier. This helped to reunite the country before Soviet Russia invaded, later that year. Segerstråle said that he painted the fresco in Caux in gratitude for what Moral Re-Armament (MRA) had done for Finland.

Among Segerstråle’s best known works are his frescos in the Bank of Finland in Helsinki and in Varkaus main church. The latter, at 242 square metres, is believed to be the largest fresco in Scandinavia.

If work on a fresco is interrupted for even a few hours, the whole section has to be redone – but he was prepared to take that risk.

An MRA friend, Paul Gundersen, visited him while he was working on it: ‘He used a scaffold on railway tracks to move back and forth along the wall. He had just interupted his work and was talking to a woman, who had come to ask for personal help. If work on a fresco is interrupted for even a few hours, the whole section has to be redone – but he was prepared to take that risk.’

 

Lennart Segerstrale fresco dining-room
Lennart Segerstråle (right) with Molle-Cecilie Major and Peter Lotar in Caux, 1970

 

In 1970, Segerstråle was one of a group of artists from many disciplines who met in Caux. The conference led to a book, New Life for Art, to which Segerstråle contributed a paper. ‘The most basic of all facts about art is that the man and the art are one person,’ he stated. Personal factors such as fear of the critics or ‘a wrong ambition’ could sap creativity: ‘there can be many enemies in me which spoil my work’.

The most basic of all facts about art is that the man and the art are one person.

He gave the example of working with a woman assistant on a church fresco. ‘One day we were trying out the colours for the next surface. We each did some, and compared them. I saw at once that my colleague’s colours were better than mine, but I decided we should go ahead with my choice. My colleague silently assented. But there was no joy in it. Teamwork did not flow. The result grew visibly worse.’  On the third day, he finally admitted his jealousy to his colleague, apologized and asked their horrified mason to resurface the wall so they could start again. 

 

Lennart Segerstråle (centre) in front of the fresco
Lennart Segerstråle (centre) in front of the Caux fresco

 

As a Christian, Segerstråle saw his art, regardless of theme, as an expression of his relationship with God. He was generous in his support of MRA, giving the fee from one of his commissions  – nearly half a year’s income – for the dubbing of the film Freedom into Swahili (see 1955). Gundersen maintained that his loyalty to MRA, at a controversial time, cost Segerstråle a Presidential award.

‘Maybe it was understandable that some of those close to Lennart felt that his Christian commitment stole too much of his time,’ Gundersen wrote. ‘Lennart once told me that these critics did not grasp what was the deepest well of his inspiration.’

That well is also the focus of his fresco at Caux.

 

Throught the years, artists of all disciplines have been inspired by Lennart Segerstråle's concept of ‘art that is dangerous to evil’. Many of them are preparing to celebrate Caux’s 75 Years of Encounters this year. A series of arts events will be launched with an online event on 29 May. Stay tuned and watch this space for a variety of performances, artistic presentations and workshops throughout the year!

 

Art reflects the spirit of the times. It is a part of the present, but it also looks to the future and helps to shape it. It reports upon the fate of mankind.

Lennart Segerstråle

________________________________________________________________________

 

Lennart segerstrale fresco dining-room Lifted up

Left:

In the centre of the fresco, a figure looks into the mirror of the well of life and finds himself filled with darkness. A change takes place in his heart, and he rises, radiant with light, with his eyes open to a new world and a new life. Five figures behind him carry the living water to the five continents.

 

 

Lennart segerstrale fresco dining-room Helping

Right:

The antelopes in the foreground and the figures carrying bowls represent the millions who long to reach the well. In the foreground an African offers his bowl of water to a sick white man: a symbol of Africa bringing healing to a western world which has lost its way.

 

 

Lennart segerstrale fresco dining-room Lifted up

Left:

People from different races and continents stream to the water, extending their hands in reconciliation. The children hold a frond of the palm of peace.

 

 

 

Lennart segerstrale fresco dining-room Family

Right:

The four snakes in the bottom right corner represent the internal enemies which poison people’s hearts. Mother and father protect their children, raising a spear to attack. They are taking a stand in the battle between good and evil, truth and falsehood.

 

 

Discover a full description of the different scenes of the fresco.

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

 

This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.

 

  • Incorrigibly Independent, Paul Gundersen, Caux Books, 1999
  • New Life for Art, Victor Sparre Grosvenor Books, 1971
  • Portrait (teaser): Jan Franzon
  • Photo 1970 in Caux with friends: Lars Rengfelt
  • Photo top, portrait, L.S. painting fresco, with fresco: Initiatives of Change
  • Photos 4 scenes: Cindy Bühler
Featured Story
Off
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

Patrick Colquhoun

1961 - Patrick Colquhoun: ‘That week changed my life’

‘Papers about Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) sent to me by a friend over the previous three years invariably ended in the bin,’ wrote Patrick Colquhoun. But his first visit at the confe...

Marcel Grandy and Archbishop Makarios

1960 - Cyprus: 'Hope never dies'

There are few problems in the world that have not found some echo in the conferences and encounters in Caux since 1946. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence, after several years of sometimes violent...

Caux school 4

1958 - Angela Elliott: At school in Caux

Angela Cook (later Elliott) arrived in Caux in 1958, aged four. She was one of some 40 children who lived in Caux at different times between 1955 and 1965, attending a small chalet school just up the ...

Jessie Bond 1945

1957 - Jessie Bond: 'I saw his greatness'

Jessie Bond was struggling to cope with four children and her husband’s frequent outbursts. She was seriously thinking of leaving him when they went to Switzerland to spend the summer in Caux. A time ...

Freedom scene square

1955 - Freedom: 'Do you think you could write a play?'

‘We were catapulted into history,’ said Manasseh Moerane, one of the writers of Freedom. The play was seen by 30,000 people all over Europe and demand was so great that they decided to make a film. Fr...

Zeller family black and white

1956 – The Zellers: A family invested in Caux

‘We had the great joy of deciding to sell our house and give the money to Caux,’ Anneli Zeller told the conference on the 29 July 1956. ‘The man we sold it to was so impressed that he gave 10,000 Swis...

Saidie Patterson

1954 - Saidie Patterson: ‘Bury the hatchet or bury the dead’

When Saidie Patterson, a trades union organizer from Northern Ireland, spoke at the conference centre at Caux in 1954, she was keen to point out that Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) had ...

Mohamed Masmouti

1953 – Mohamed Masmoudi: 'Stop cursing the French!'

In 1953, Mohamed Masmoudi, a young Tunisian nationalist living a semi-clandestine existence, came to Caux, more or less smuggled across the border into Switzerland. At Caux, he lost his hatred of the ...

Maurice Mercier 1951

1951 - Maurice Mercier: 'Not one cry of hatred'

‘He would have looked at home serving behind a bar down the street,’ the Swiss Jean-Jacques Odier wrote of his first meeting with Maurice Mercier in the offices of France’s Force Ouvrière textile work...

Maclean wedding Caux 1958 square

1952 - Elsbeth and Adam McLean: A Caux wedding

When Elsbeth Spoerry from Switzerland helped to clean up the derelict Caux Palace for the first conference in 1946, she could hardly have guessed that, six years later, she would get married there to ...

Yukaki Shoma young

1950 - Yukika Sohma: 'Japan can become reborn'

The Japanese flag was flying outside the conference centre as 64 Japanese arrived in Caux in 1950. It was a moving moment as back in Japan, still under American occupation, displaying the flag was for...

Max Bladeck

1949 - Max Bladeck: Beyond class war

Max Bladeck joined the Communist Party as a young German coal miner in the 1920s. He remained loyal during the Hitler years when tens of thousands of communists were imprisoned or lost their lives. By...

Paul Misraki

1948 - Paul Misraki: Soundtrack for a new Germany

Germany was in ruins. Europe was in ruins. Millions had been killed; millions more wounded and displaced. There were also ruins of the mind, deep collective trauma in desperate need of healing. In the...

Peter Petersen

1947 - Peter Petersen: ‘All our defences crumbled’

‘At that time, even a dog would have refused a bit of bread from the hand of a German,’ remembered Peter Petersen, one of 150 Germans who the Allies allowed to come to Caux in 1947. They were some of ...