ISABEL DE STEIGER (1836-1927). My life-by-dates continues with the two years 1883 and 1884, during which she exhibited more paintings than at any other time.
This particular update: May 2017
Just re-stating the Golden Dawn connection:
Isabel de Steiger was one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s
earliest members, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in
THE LAYOUT BELOW which I hope isn’t too difficult to read.
What Isabel was doing, tends to be in italics. My comments, and the sources, are typed in my usual Times New Roman.
Lastly, before we start, a quick note on her name: she was baptised with it spelled in the French way - Isabelle - and did return to that spelling from time to time in her life. For most of her life, however, she used ‘Isabel’ and I’ll stick with that.
7 JANUARY 1883
Anna Bonus Kingsford became president of the London Lodge of the TS; with her spiritual companion Edward Maitland as her vice-president.
Source: The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe by A P Sinnett. London: Theosophical Publishing House Ltd 1922: p11.
Alfred Percy Sinnett and his wife Patience, returned to England from India. They were both close friends of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Comment by Sally Davis on the importance of the Sinnetts, based on Isabel’s recollections of the 1880s:
The Sinnetts knew a lot of people, and had the Indian habit of keeping open house. They had known Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in India. Their homes at 7 Ladbroke Gardens and later in Leinster Gardens Bayswater became a meeting place on Sundays for people interested in theosophy and spiritualism. Isabel was a regular visitor, even though the Sinnetts were allies of Blavatsky and Isabel an ally of Kingsford in a dispute that broke out in 1883-84 about the election of Kingsford as president of the TS: Blavatsky’s followers thought Kingsford focused too much on western esotericism. Isabel liked Alfred Sinnett up to a point: she thought his wife had “far more intellectual ability” and “a keener critical faculty” and felt that he didn’t question things enough. It was Patience Sinnett that Isabel came to see; and at some time during the mid-to-late 1880s she painted a full-length portrait of Patience, in pastels. Isabel didn’t want to be paid for the portrait, but Patience insisted on trading the picture for a silk dress. Theosophist writer and editor Mabel Collins; and the scientist, psychic researcher and future GD member William Crookes were two of the many people Isabel met at the Sinnett’s house. Isabel doesn’t mention knowing Sir Edwin Arnold but he too was a friend of the Sinnetts so I’m sure she had met him. She does say that she read his poetry and his The Light of Asia.
The Sinnetts in India and London: Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett. Unedited version published Theosophical History Centre 1986 and now available online. On pp16-17: A P Sinnett began to correspond with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott shortly after they arrived in India in December 1879. Blavatsky and Olcott accepted an invitation to stay with the Sinnetts in Allahabad and that’s how they met. On pp24-25: the Sinnetts moved into 7 Ladbroke Grove on 31 January 1884; on p36 the move to Leinster Gardens isn’t dated in the autobiography but Sinnett’s references to it make me think it might have happened around 1890. On p31: the Sinnetts’ at-homes, to which so many theosophists went regularly, were on Tuesday afternoons.
1883 and 1884
London Lodge became a battle-ground between a group focused around Anna Bonus Kingsford on the one side; and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky on the other, about whether the TS should include the study of western hermeticism. Isabel herself wanted both eastern and western hermeticism to be available to TS members; and tried to mediate as the argument grew more strident. Looking back while writing Memorabilia, Isabel felt that she hadn’t done a particularly good job at reconciling the warring factions - she’d been seen as favouring Kingsford, and pro-Blavatsky members of the TS (like Alfred Sinnett) had grown cool towards her.
Source: Memorabilia p174-176.
Isabel showed another work at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin: her oil painting The Valkyrie Maidens, exhibited for the second of five times.
Source for this showing of the Valkyrie painting:
Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 compiled by Ann M Stewart. Volume 1: A-G. Dublin: Manton Publishing 1986. On p210 as de Steiger, Mme Isabel. Listing for 1883: Valkyrie Maidens as oil painting, catalogue number 73, price £35.
Isabel exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy for the first time. She showed two paintings: Semiramis; and The Fair Slave Enees-el-Jelees which was based on a character from the Arabian Nights.
Source: The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors 1826-1990 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière. Calne: Hilmarton Manor Press 1991. There are no indications as to whether the paintings were for sale or not. Volume 4 R-Z p615 Steiger, de; Mme Isabel. Catalogue numbers: 393 for Semiramis; 543 for The Fair Slave...
Just confirming that Isabel was never a member of the RSA: The Royal Scottish Academy 1826-1916 list of members exhibiting; compiled by Frank Rinder. Originally published 1917; British Library’s copy is Kingsmead Reprints 1975: p384 Isabel isn’t listed.
Comment by Sally Davis: this was a secong showing of three for Semiramis: it had been shown, as Semiramide, in 1882 at the Royal Albert Hall.
Isabel did a charcoal drawing of Christian David Ginsburg during a series of visits to his house. She found the process very trying, partly because his head was “very unclassical” but mostly because his face was in “constant movement from incessant talking”. She shut him up by talking herself on the subject “of most interest to nearly every man, viz, himself”, in particular his The Massorah which she was reading as it was published.
Source: Memorabilia p169.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel doesn’t say what she did with the drawing when she considered it was finished. I imagine the whole point of doing the drawing was to give it as a gift, to Ginsburg.
Here’s some further information on Ginsburg but for his early years please see the first file in this life-by-dates:
In 1870 Ginsburg had got a job at the Old Testament Revision Company and had moved from Liverpool to Berkshire. In 1904 he was elected editor of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s New Critical Bible. Ginsburg had done the work on the Pentateuch, the Prophets and some of the later books by the time he died, in March 1914; the whole thing was published in 1926.
1861 translation and commentary on Ecclesiastes
1867 translation and notes on Jacob ben Chayim’s Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible
?1867 translation and notes on Elias Levita’s Masoret Ha-Masoret
1880-86 The Massorah, in four volumes
1894 a work on the Hebrew bible and The Massorah published by the Trinitarian Bible Society.
Source: Ginsburg’s entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography volume 22 p337-38.
A conversazione was held at the Royal Institution on Piccadilly. The great and good of theosophy were all there, including Blavatsky; Isabel and her Jewish convert friend Christian David Ginsburg; and Anna Bonus Kingsford, who gave a speech. At his request, Isabel introduced Ginsburg to Dr Kingsford; and as a result, Isabel and Anna were invited to dinner with the Ginsburgs.
Memorabilia p166-69 Isabel doesn’t say who organised this social event. Tt could have been the British National Association of Spiritualists but I think it’s more likely it was the Theosophical Society.
Red Cactus: the Life of Anna Kingsford by Alan Pert. Watsons Bay NSW: Books and Writers Network Pty Ltd 2006: p111.
Source for the conversazione taking place before 23 August 1883: Red Cactus p111 quoting a letter of that date, from Blavatsky to Alfred Sinnett, in which Blavatsky criticised what Dr Kingsford had worn to the event (still the easiest criticism to make about a public woman. Over a century of feminism has made no difference has it?)
PROBABLY END OF AUGUST; DEFINITELY BEFORE 11 SEPTEMBER 1883
Isabel and Anna Bonus Kingsford went to St Anne’s Heath Egham to spend the evening with the Ginsburgs but the exchange of greetings between Christian David Ginsburg and Dr Kingsford turned the evening into a social disaster.
Source for a date of before 11 September 1883: Red Cactus p113: on 11 September 1883 Dr Kingsford left for a lecture tour of the north of England and Scotland on behalf of the Vegetarian Society.
Source for the evening that went so wrong: Memorabilia pp171-73.
Comment by Sally Davis: writing up the events of this dire evening out, many decades after it took place, Isabel still wasn’t sure whether Ginsburg was being complimentary, or mocking, when he greeted Anna Bonus Kingsford as a prophet greater than Isaiah. She was sure, though, that Ginsburg was completely taken aback when, in her reply, Dr Kingsford agreed with him: Isabel could see him being unable to decide whether Kingsford was mocking, or indulging in hubris. Isabel was quite sure that Dr Kingsford had spoken in all sincerity. An awkward pause ensued which was filled by Ginsburg’s wife Emilie (who was strongly Evangelical) saying that Dr Kingsford couldn’t possibly be a prophet. Mr and Mrs Ginsburg continued to bate Anna Bonus Kingsford as the evening wore on. And the Ginsburg daughters played the piano as well brought-up middle-class young women should; though not very well, Isabel thought - the Ginsburg girls were more sporty than musical. The guests sat quiet - Isabel, Anna, and two young men previously unknown to Isabel. The time came when it would not be rude to leave; and all the guests did, stumbling after Isabel along the foggy country lanes back to the station. Dr Kingsford clung to Isabel throughout and looked so unwell that Isabel thought that the Ginsburgs’ behaviour had been tantamount to a psychic attack, which had affected Kingsford physically.
Whether Isabel carried on any kind of friendship with the Ginsburgs after that fraught evening is not clear. He is certainly not mentioned again in Memorabilia. However, Isabel was still influenced by his views many years later: in Superhumanity p71 (published 1915) she urged people to study commentaries on the Old Testament written by Jewish scholars - a view that must be based on Ginsburg’s arguments.
Isabel exhibited at the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham again. She showed two oil works: Abd-el-Rahman; and Semiramis.
Royal Society of Artists Birmingham Autumn Exhibition Catalogue 1883. List of exihibitors p80. P27 catalogue number 162: Abd-el-Rahman price £10. P32 catalogue number 270 Semiramis available at £25.
Comment by Sally Davis: Semiramis was on its third outing. It had been shown as Semiramide in 1882 at the Royal Albert Hall and as Semiramis earlier in 1883 at the Royal Scottish Academy.
Isabel showed two oil paintings at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool: The Enchantress; and The Lorelei Maiden.
13th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1883. List of exhibitors p135. And in the list of paintings: p16 catalogue number 149 - The Enchantress, price £100; and p80 catalogue number 1416 - The Lorelei Maiden “Sitting on a Rock over the Whirlpool, singing to the Fishermen Below” (Isabel’s quote marks), for sale at £35.
Comment by Sally Davis: both paintings were exhibited once more. Isabel showed The Enchantress in 1885 at the Royal Hibernian Academy. It was a painting that GD member Frederick Leigh Gardner admired (see the entries for November 1897). The Lorelei Maiden was shown again in 1895 at the Royal Scottish Academy, as the property of Isabel’s friends William and Fanny Crosfield who had probably bought it in 1883.
Isabel’s niece Evelyn Margaret Burton (Rosamond’s eldest daughter) married Thomas William Thornton of Kingsthorpe Hall Northamptonshire.
Source for the marriage: www.genesreunited.co.uk to Northampton Mercury issues of 8 September 1883 and 15 September 1883; though I couldn’t see enough of a guest-list to discover whether Isabel went to the wedding.
DECEMBER 1883- ?JANUARY 1884
Isabel exhibited at an exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours (now the Royal Institute of Oil Painters); the only time she did so. She showed her oil painting The Greek Captive and her Nubian Slave.
At archive.org, Institute of Painters in Oil Colours catalogue of 1st exhibition 1883-84, at the Piccadilly Gallery. Book lists 801 exhibits; there were only a few sculptures though one was by Rodin. On p46 in the list of exhibitors and p35 catalogue number 60.
For the opening date of the exhibition: Times Monday 17 December 1883 p1: announcement that the exhibition was open; and p7 a report on some of the exhibits, though there was no mention of Isabel’s painting. The dates of the exhibition weren’t given so I’m not sure when it closed.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were in England for seven months during this year.
Information from: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky introduced and edited by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books 2004; p13.
SPRING 1884 TO SUMMER 1886
Isabel was a member of the Hermetic Society, founded by Anna Bonus Kingsford.
Source: Memorabilia p156
Source for the dates of the Hermetic Society: Biography of Anna Bonus Kingsford and her Founding of the Hermetic Society by Samuel Hopgood Hart. It was published separately by Kessinger Legacy Reprints in 2013 but originally had been the introductory essay to a book of Kingsford’s esoteric writings, The Credo of Christendom, published in 1930 and edited by Hopgood Hart. The biography is based on papers of Kingsford’s. On p46 the last meeting of the Hermetic Society at which Kingsford was present took place on 15 July 1886. She founded the Society as a venue for theosophists who wanted to study western Christian esotericism. P28-29: its first official meetings were in June 1884 at 43 Rutland Gate on Thursdays at 5pm. P47 no meetings of the Hermetic Society were held in 1887 because of Kingsford’s decline in health and the Society didn’t survive her death in 1888.
Comment by Sally Davis: this Society will have been very much more to Isabel’s taste than Blavatsky’s study group. Several men who later joined the GD were members of it: the GD’s two main founders,William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers; and William Forsell Kirby.
15 JUNE 1884
Isabel showed to Colonel Olcott what he called a “remarkable portrait of Mahatma M...” that she had done.
Source: Colonel Olcott’s diary, mentioned at theosophy.com in an article The Portraits of the Masters Part I, by Daniel Caldwell; uploaded 15 September 2006.
Comment by Sally Davis: I’m cautiously assuming that this is a different painting altogether from the portrait of Morya that Isabel painted for Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1887; although it does suggest why Blavatsky might have given Isabel that commission. I haven’t found any other reference to the painting so I don’t know what happened to it.
26 JUNE 1884
Isabel held a reception, to which many of her theosophist friends were invited.
Information from: an account of the life of Elliott F Coues (1842-99) at theosophywiki. The wiki says that Coues first met Colonel Olcott at this reception. Coues became a member of the TS but later turned against theosophy.
Comment by Sally Davis: I’m not sure, but I think Isabel was still living at 8 Hornton Street in Kensington at this time. See the entries below for 1886/87 - Isabel was trying to establish herself as a hostess on the aesthetic/spiritualist/theosophist social circuit at around this time; this evening party was part of her attempts to do so.
Isabel showed her Valkyrie painting for the second of five times. For this showing, at the Royal Scottish Academy, Isabel gave it a longer title: The Valkyrie Maidens Proclaiming the Death of the Sun God Balder the Beautiful.
The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibitors 1826-1990 ed Charles Baile de Laperrière. Calne: Hilmarton Manor Press 1991. There are no indications as to whether the paintings were for sale or not. Volume 4 R-Z p615 entry for Steiger, de; Mme Isabel.
See the entries for its last showing, in autumn 1886, for more on this painting’s subject-matter.
Isabel was one of those TS members who signed a petition prepared by Francesca Arundale asking Blavatsky to agree to allow the forming of a study group within the TS’s London Lodge. The group would focus on Eastern esotericism. However, when Isabel found out the terms and conditions of membership, she changed her mind about being in the group.
Source for the petition: H.P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings volume VI covering 1883-85. Compiled and with notes by Boris de Zirkoff. Published Los Angeles California: Blavatsky Writings Publication Fund 1954. You can see the piece of paper at Katinka Hesselink’s website: www.katinkahesselink.net/blavatsky/articles/v6/y1884_042.htm; Isabel’s signature is on the petition. See also at that website Hesselink’s argument for a date of between 29 June 1884 and 16 August 1884 for the preparation and signing of the petition. Source for Isabel’s change of heart: Memorabilia pp174-176.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel gave two reasons for why she decided not to become a member of this theosophical inner circle. The first one she mentions is that she feared it would involve giving up her painting. But the one that weighed more with her, I think, was Blavatsky’s set of rules for the group - she thought them draconian, particularly the one that required obedience to the dictats of Blavatsky’s masters, her Mahatmas.
The rules were put before Isabel by Francesca Arundale, when Isabel was spending the evening with Francesca and her mother and their house-guest Mohini Chatterjee. Isabel’s second thoughts about joining the group were: “If I had thrown off one set of shackles” (I presume she means those of Christianity, particularly its Evangelical tendencies) “why should I be enslaved with fresh ones?” One sad result of her change of heart was that Isabel spent less and less time with those who didn’t mind Blavatsky’ rules - including Francesca Arundale, who had been a good friend up until then. It’s not clear from Memorabilia whether Isabel realised at the time that this would happen; certainly she never regretted her choice to keep her intellectual independence.
The Arundales’ address at the time: see www.katinkahesselink.net above: it was 77 Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill.
For Mohini Chatterjee in London:
For why he was there: Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett. Unedited version published Theosophical History Centre 1986 and now available online. On p40 Sinnett says that Mohini Chatterjee had been brought to London by Olcott, having been taken up by Blavatsky as “a probationary chela”. He and Olcott arrived at Victoria Station on 5 April 1884.
See also: www.open.ac.uk, the Open University’s research project into the contribution of people from Asia in the making of Britain.
Isabel exhibited her painting The Greek Captive and Her Nubian Slave at the Piccadilly Gallery, in the first exhibition held by the newly-founded Institute of Painters in Oil Colours. At this point she was still renting the studio in Holland Park Road.
Via archive.org to Catalogue of the first exhibition of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours; published 1884: p35 catalogue number 690. Separately numbered at the back of the catalogue, the current addresses of the exhibitors: p46. Edward Sherard Kennedy, husband of GD member Florence Kennedy, also had a work in the exhibition.
Comment by Sally Davis: I don’t think, from the Catalogue, that Isabel was a member of the Institute - the members all seemed to be men. So her painting must have passed the scrutiny of an all-male ‘standards’ committee. That must have pleased her!
BY AUTUMN 1884
Isabel had given up the studio in Holland Park and moved to one at The Studios, 8 Avonmore Road Kensington.
Source: Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 2nd Autumn Exhibition 1884. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. List of exhibitors p79.
Comment by Sally Davis: Avonmore Road is near Olympia; most of it backs onto the railway. I think Isabel continued to rent this studio until 1889.
Isabel exhibited her oil painting Eureka! Eureka! at the Manchester Royal Institution Art Gallery.
Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 1st Autumn Exhibition 1883. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. Isabel didn’t show anything at this exhibition.
Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institution 2nd Autumn Exhibition 1884. Manchester: Blacklock and Co. List of exhibitors p79; and p14 catalogue number 128, for sale at £35. Information taken from the 1886 exhibition but applicable to all the early ones says that each artist would be allowed a maximum of three works, with works of “moderate size” being preferred to outsize canvases. The Fine Art Society of 148 New Bond Street was the Corporation’s representative in London.
Comments by Sally Davis: firstly just explaining that the original Royal Manchester Institution had presented its building and its art collection to Manchester Corporation in 1882, the corporation also taking over the organisation of the Institution’s art exhibitions. After this one work, Isabel didn’t show any works at the corporation’s Manchester exhibitions until the early 1890s.
Isabel exhibited three paintings at the autumn exhibition of the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham: The Veiling of Isis; The Valkyrie Maidens, shown for the third time; and Fireside Harmony.
Royal Society of Artists Birmingham Autumn Exhibition Catalogue 1884. List of exhibitors p70. P41: The Veiling of Isis, catalogue number 440 price £20. P52 The Valkyrie Maidens, catalogue number 645, price £45. P59 Fireside Harmony catalogue number 799 for sale at £6/6. The first two paintings were in oils. Fireside Harmony was a watercolour drawing.
Comments by Sally Davis: when The Valkyrie Maidens had been shown in Scotland earlier in the year, it had had a much longer title. Though the full title might have been on the frame, it had been curtailed for this exhibition’s catalogue. Fireside Harmony might have been a preparatory sketch for part of a bigger work; but it might also have been an attempt at a domestic ‘genre’ subject. For more information on ‘genre’ paintings - very popular with the newly-wealthy middle-classes all over Europe - see
Popular 19th Century Painting: A Dictionary of European Genre Painters. By Philip Hook and Mark Poltimore. Antique Collectors’ Club 1986. Isabel isn’t listed at all in it, despite doing works in several of the genres covered by it.
Isabel exhibited two more paintings in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery: A Dream of Hermes; and Nature and Art.
14th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1884. P7 just to check whether P H Rathbone was still on the exhibition’s hanging committee (he was). List of exhibitors p179. And list of exhibits: p20 catalogue number 266 - A Dream of Hermes, price £25; and p74 catalogue number 1213 - Nature and Art, for sale at £15. Both were oil paintings.
The next file in the life-by-dates sequence covers 1885 to the death of Anna Bonus Kingsford in February 1888.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web. Very good on bankruptcies!
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even
for the female members of GD.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
COPYRIGHT SALLY DAVIS
23 May 2017
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: