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

By Mary Lean

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


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


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


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


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
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

Erica Utzinger and her husband Beni working in the archives

2002: Erika Utzinger - 200 metres of history

The archives of the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, now held by the Canton of Vaud, are an endless source of precious information. Swiss archivist Eliane Stallybrass describes the work to preserve...


2001: Cornelio Sommaruga - ‘Grüss Gott’

'I first met Cornelio Sommaruga at a private dinner party. He was then head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and was just back from Cuba, where he’d met with Fidel Castro, in the...

Club for Young Leaders, Angela 2014, Caux (photo Diana Topan)

2000: Angela Starovoytova and Kostiantyn Ploskyi – Taking off the masks

Around the turn of the Millennium, many young Ukrainians came to Caux. Some of them took leadership in Foundations for Freedom (F4F), a programme for young people which offered courses in the values w...

Ismar and Fabiana Villavicencio credit T Hazell

1999: Gente Que Avanza – Latin America hits town

It was a Red-Letter Day in July 1999 when more than 40 young Latin Americans burst through the front door of Mountain House, Caux, and hugged everyone in sight. Gente Que Avanza had arrived – and Caux...

Ningali Cullen speaken at the dedication of a national memorial to the Stolen Generations 2004

1998: Ningali Cullen – Journey of Healing

When Ningali Cullen came to Caux in 1998, she brought news of a growing people’s movement in Australia to acknowledge the truth about their history. ...

Maori queen

1997: The Māori Queen – ‘Our people are moving forward’

She was a queen with the vision of a better future for her people. Discover the story of Māori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and her visit to Caux. ...

Cardinal König in Caux.png

1996: Cardinal Franz König - 'On each visit I learn something new'

One of the enduring images of the 50th anniversary of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in 1996 is that of the Dalai Lama greeting the 90-year-old Cardinal Franz König. ...

Marta Dabrowska.jpeg

1995: Marta Dąbrowska – ‘Summer comes and Caux comes’

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, large numbers of Eastern and Central Europeans came to the Initiatives of Change (IofC) conferences in Caux. Many, like Marta Dąbrowska from Pola...

4th Caux Round Table Global Dialogues 1989

1994: The Caux Round Table – Principles for Business

In July 1994, a set of Principles for Business was launched at Caux by the Caux Round Table (CRT), an international forum of business leaders which had been meeting there since 1986....

Ahmed Egal and Hassan Mohamud in Stockholm

1993: Somalia – ‘If you can have peace in Galkayo, you can have it anywhere’

Among the Somalis at Caux in 1993 were Hassan Mohamud and Ahmed Egal, both from Galkayo, one of Somalia’s most violent cities. At Caux in 1993, together with other Somalis, they drew up a list of pote...

Hope in the Cities - Dr Robert Taylor (left, John Smith and Audrey Burton at Caux 1992

1992: Hope in the Cities – 'Where healing can take place'

In July 1992, 80 Americans arrived at the Initiatives of Change Switzerland conference centre in Caux with an urgent question: how to address racism, poverty and alienation in US cities. Three months ...

Anna Abdallah

1991: Anna Abdallah Msekwa – Creators of Peace

The 680 women – and some men – who packed the Main Hall of the Caux Palace for the launch of Creators of Peace 30 years ago came from 62 countries and a mind-boggling variety of backgrounds: a Mohawk ...

King Michael of Romania, Queen Anne and young Romanians in Caux 1990

1990: King Michael of Romania – ‘Evil cannot last indefinitely’

In the summer of 1990, six months after the overthrow of Communism in their country, 30 young Romanians came to Caux. It was their first time outside the Eastern bloc, and they had been hesitant about...