Edith Maryon

One hundred years ago, on May 2, 1924, Rudolf Steiner’s friend and collaborator, the artist Edith Maryon, died. Barbara Schnetzler and Rembert Biemond speak about the British sculptor with Wolfgang Held.

Rembert Biemond, how did you become involved with Edith Maryon’s work and biography, back in the 1990s?

Biemond Like many, I was interested in the history of the Anthroposophical Society. In 1924, six board members were appointed, including Rudolf Steiner, but seven section leaders—the same six plus one, and this plus one was Edith Maryon. Who was this woman? So little of her was known at the time, little more than that she had worked on Rudolf Steiner’s wooden sculpture and made the so-called eurythmy figures out of plywood.

Didn’t Rex Raab’s book about Edith Maryon in the Pioniere der Anthroposophie [Pioneers of anthroposophy] series exist back in the 90’s?

Biemond No, the rich correspondence she’d had with Rudolf Steiner was also not yet available at that time. In [Rudolf Steiner’s] Complete Works, you could find his speech upon her death in 1924, and there were short passages in the series of memoirs in magazines, but not much more. Edith Maryon died one year before Rudolf Steiner. That was the modest sum of sources that I was able to access. What did exist at the end of the 1980s, were some then quite old people who had known or at least met Edith Maryon. I sought out these people and thus heard from John Wilkes from Great Britain, who had restored sculptures and models of Maryon’s in the seventies and had researched her, and from Rex Raab, who was preparing his book. I spoke to both of them at length. That’s how I became more and more familiar with Edith Maryon’s life. Now, thirty years later, the tide has turned. A series of books about her have been published [in German], and three years ago, the four-kilo volume on her magnum opus Der Menschheitsrepräsentant [The Representative of Humanity] came out.1 Additionally, her name will be remembered thanks to the successful work of the Edith Maryon Foundation, which was named after her in 1990.2

Barbara Schnetzler, how did you encounter her, as an artist?

Schnetzler If you’re a sculptor and you encounter anthroposophy, you can’t possibly miss Edith Maryon. As an artist, then, it’s obvious that you should concern yourself with The Representative of Humanity sculpture, which would hardly exist in this form without the devoted assistance of Edith Maryon. Even the plans and sketches she created for the sculpture testify to the subtlety and technical level of a well-founded artist. The flow and gesture of her work touched me from the very beginning. Her early work in Great Britain also shows a masterful ability.

She carved The Representative of Humanity with Rudolf Steiner, and you write that she did ninety percent of the work.

Biemond Yes, that’s the estimate. But it’s not about counting hours or calculating percentages. I think it’s more important and more significant that a form of artistic collaboration succeeded back then, for which we now have the word “co-creation.” That was Steiner’s working style in his last years. He collaborated with a number of people on equal footing. With the models for the sculpture, there was a back-and-forth between Edith Maryon and Rudolf Steiner. Maryon would work, and then Steiner would correct her, and then he would work, and she would correct him. Indeed, he insisted that they both sign their names to the work. Yes, it was a co-creation, in which they were reciprocally muse and inspiration. We can certainly say that the sculpture, which, yes, others also helped to carve, is her “Magnum Opus,” her life’s work.

Does her work evoke a primal aesthetic experience?

Schnetzler Yes, absolutely. At the center of her work stands the human being. Her sculptures are full of human grace and radiate a gesture of deep, inner liveliness. The figures are imbued with a formal characteristic style and a knowledge of human proportions. Her early works show that she studied the human form, knew how to compose these parts into a large whole, and did so in a graceful, intimate form and manner. It’s this transition from Classicism to Art Nouveau: suddenly, into the somewhat occult-Egyptian austerity of her early work, comes a rhythmic flow. This etheric weaving, especially in the drapery of her figures, may well have something to do with her encounter with Rudolf Steiner. In particular, in the Representative of Humanity and in the formation of Lucifer, in the sweep of the wings, everything has this wonderful rhythm and sense of proportion.

I have not been able to see any originals from her earlier work in Great Britain. Only images exist from that time. Nevertheless, even from the photographs, I can experience her early interest in spirituality and her deep seeking.

Edith Maryon, source: Rudolf Steiner Archive

What did it mean to work as a female artist or sculptor one hundred years ago?

Schnetzler Sculpture was certainly a male-dominated field at the time, although there were definitely some female sculptors from this period—people just didn’t know about them. Even today, female sculptors from this period are hardly known. So, Edith Maryon was, to some extent, a pioneer, since this was a very unusual path to take, especially because she had to make a living as a woman in London at the time, even if her background did give her a certain amount of economic security.

It’s a bit of a tragedy then, that hardly anything remains of her early work from her British period?

Biemond Yes, there is hardly anything, but I have not given up hope. The research is only just beginning—research into her first forty years is still in its infancy. There are biographies about her, and many articles have been published in recent years. Her home addresses and some of her friends are known, but little else. John Wilkes and Rex Raab have done pioneering work here.

Thanks to the digitisation of archives, much is coming to light. We know, for example, that her studio or warehouse in Great Britain was not closed until the 1940s, twenty years after her death. Until then, her sister had probably lived in the house for a long time. So, the studio wasn’t cleared out until the 1940s, and her belongings probably went to a library, and then the trail is lost. Here is where the research begins. I believe that there is still a lot to be found, but it means enormous effort and detective work.

The series of books about the pioneers of anthroposophy began in the 1970s. I think it was with Zeylmans van Emmichoven. The authors complained about the gigantic amount of source material. Rudolf Steiner’s companions and co-workers, such as Marie Steiner or Ita Wegman, were all half a generation to a whole generation younger than him and lived twenty to forty years longer as active anthroposophists. They left behind a large number of documents or wrote books themselves. It was the reverse with Edith Maryon: her tiny apartment in Dornach was dismantled soon after her death.

In the collection of anthroposophical biographies by Bodo von Plato, Die Anthroposophie im 20. Jahrhundert [Anthroposophy in the 20th Century], you wrote about Edith Maryon and mentioned that her letters to Rudolf Steiner initially went unanswered. Her new life at the Goetheanum began with resistance, didn’t it?

Biemond Yes, she must have been very determined. At the same time, it’s quite puzzling. Much still needs to be researched about her friends and her social circle in Great Britain at the time. Like many people interested in spirituality, she belonged to a lodge there, and many from this circle went on to join Rudolf Steiner. Was she sent? There was a very engaged spiritual life there, but then, perhaps, many realised that their work and knowledge of the spirit was modest in comparison to what they encountered from Steiner.

Had Edith Maryon heard about Rudolf Steiner at the time?

Biemond There was Baron Waleen, a Finnish-Swedish aristocrat, who gave lectures on Steiner’s work in London that Edith Maryon heard. Additionally, Steiner’s first books had been translated. Theosophy had been available in London bookshops since 1912.

Edith Maryon had a strong artistic and probably spiritual interest in Italy, Rome, Egypt, and Greece and gave herself the gift of travelling to what were very distant countries at the time. She had planned to travel to Egypt.

That was the journey that only took her as far as Milan?

Biemond That’s the one. It took place in 1912, when she was forty years old. We know far too little. Was she travelling alone? We believe so. She travelled by ship across the Channel, then by train to Italy to embark for Alexandria. Presumably, she used her contacts, since all these occult groups were in communication with one another. She got as far as Milan and made a stop there. Perhaps she wanted to familiarise herself with the art of the Renaissance. In any case, she met some Milanese theosophists, soon-to-be anthroposophists. They told her that Steiner spoke regularly in Berlin. This was apparently reason enough for her to throw her travel plans to the wind and go to Germany soon instead. That’s incredible because this desire to travel to Egypt must have been very strong, and, indeed, it was a time of significant Egyptian archaeological finds. Was it a spiritual experience? Maybe she was also called back because her dear friend Neville Meakin was terminally ill. She cancels the trip and soon travels to Germany to hear Steiner, and her whole life changes.

It is, therefore, fascinating that at this time, Steiner speaks for the first time about the task of depicting the Representative of Humanity figure.3 Her encounter with Rudolf Steiner radically changed her life. Now, she has found what she is looking for, even though difficult years are to follow. The next ten to twelve years consisted of illness, trials, and war, but, at the same time, fulfilment. The majority of people living in Dornach, her new place of residence, tended to side with the other [German] side in the war. In addition, she was very close to Steiner—he spent a lot of time with her, so that a lot of jealousy developed towards her.

She is forty years old at this biographical turning point. That is an age of maturity. What does such an age mean artistically?

Schnetzler I would say one becomes more conscious of oneself at forty. What have I created, and what am I going to do with the second half of my life? You look at your own work more soberly and are no longer so enthusiastic, but, rather, you see it a bit from the outside. And that is quite painful. You simply see more and more. You realize that, at this age, and then comes the criticism, the self-doubt, and the doppelganger. That can naturally trigger a deep artistic crisis. (It certainly was the case for me.)

Edith Maryon had been a seeker since her youth. She had a longing for knowledge and for the spirit. That appears to have been much more important to her than bringing her own art forward. So she made a decision and said to herself: now, in the second half of my life, I want to put my forces at the service of something greater. My own art is no longer quite so important, but instead, I am now placing my life at the service of humanity.

She writes that she has found her master.

Biemond Yes, although she hardly understood German. Presumably, she recognised Rudolf Steiner through her artistic intuition.

Rembert Biemond, Barbara Schnetzler and Wolfgang Held

With Marie Steiner and Ita Wegman, and now Edith Maryon, is there a female triumvirate surrounding Rudolf Steiner?

Biemond Much has been said and written about the polarity between Ita Wegman and Marie Steiner, which has indeed gone down in the societal history as a dispute, all the way up to court proceedings. But in fact, there were three women with and around Rudolf Steiner. To be clear, Marie Steiner did have major problems with the closeness that Rudolf Steiner had with Edith Maryon. This is also substantiated. He spent a lot of time with Edith Maryon in their shared studio, corresponded extensively with her, and visited her every day. When he was on the go, he telegraphed almost daily. They were friends and yet there was something hierarchical about their relationship. She regarded him as her teacher, even though they were close friends. And, just to say, I don’t think it was a romantic or physical relationship, but there was a great closeness. Steiner visited her daily, for example, during the Christmas Conference when she was ill. A special gate was built into the fencing that surrounded the building site of the Goetheanum at the time, because Edith Maryon lived in one of the eurythmy houses, and Rudolf Steiner wanted to be able to reach her directly from the carpentry workshop without having to go around. The staff called it the “Maryon Gate.”

You use the word friendship; you don’t say love?

Biemond Yes. It’s worth taking a look at the Greek concepts of agape, spiritual love, philia, friendship love, and eros, passionate love. The relationship between Edith Maryon and Rudolf Steiner was in the realm of agape and philia. They were close on a human level, and there was a lot of humour in their meetings. There were funny, mischievous exchanges between them. I believe that for Steiner, it was very important to have a circle of people where he didn’t have to be politically correct and where he could also gripe, for example, about the conditions in Stuttgart.

Rudolf Steiner must indeed have been lonely, too. We can’t rate such a trusting friendship highly enough, can we?

Biemond It’s lonely at the top. And Edith Maryon was there at his side. It also belongs to her destiny that she died before Steiner. I hold it as an important and karmically significant point that she died less than a year before Rudolf Steiner. That way, she was spared living through the dispute over his estate [that took place after his death]. She was already in the spiritual world. Most of Steiner’s co-workers were, indeed, younger than he was, although there were exceptions, such as Adolf Arenson. The majority followed him across the threshold later and did not precede him like Edith Maryon or Christian Morgenstern [1871–1914].

How can we appreciate the co-creation of Edith Maryon and Rudolf Steiner?

Schnetzler As an artist, that is naturally something I would like very much: a collaboration with a person can enormously enhance the work. As an artist, one needs this experience of sharing, this view from outside. Through this intimate friendship between Rudolf Steiner and Edith Maryon, forces were able to come together. The co-creation succeeded as well as it did because Edith Maryon was able to place herself entirely at the service of the cause and not sacrifice herself in the process. She gave her professional skills as a gift.

I find one can see in her physiognomy something secure and, at the same time, very fragile, devoted, I would even say protective, towards Rudolf Steiner. She has consistency and loyalty, which she radiates and which Steiner must have supported enormously.

It gave him security, he once said.

Biemond A few things are significant. In the various memoirs about Rudolf Steiner, she often appears as Cerberus without her name being mentioned. In Steiner’s workroom, in their shared studio, there was constant knocking on the door. Somebody wanted something all the time, and it often made things impossible; it just couldn’t work like that. This is described by Zeylmans van Emmichoven. He had an appointment with Steiner and was turned away rather rudely by Maryon. Then it came to an end. It throws light on the fact that she protected Steiner from the onslaught of visitors. Indeed, it is documented by Steiner that the six lectures a day in the last year of his life did not wear him out. On the contrary, he says, they gave him strength. On the other hand, all the other private matters that were wanted from him robbed him of his life forces. Besides, I don’t know of any other human being who saved Steiner’s life.

Yes? What happened?

Biemond Steiner himself spoke publicly about this after Maryon’s death, and this is probably the only source. Around 1916, both were working on the beginning of the large model that still stands in the studio at the Goetheanum. The scaffolding was probably not perfect. Rudolf Steiner leaned on the railing, began to fall, and she caught his fall in some way. We will never know who was standing where and how far he fell, but in his description, he states that he would have plummeted some distance and fallen onto a sharp column if she had not caught his fall. The membership should be grateful to her, because if he was still able to achieve something for the anthroposophical cause after this time—those nine years, the founding of the daughter movements, the Christmas Conference, and whatnot—it was thanks to her rescue. Steiner literally said this.

He describes her as having an idealism that overcame the resistance of reality.

Biemond Yes, she was simply one hundred percent reliable. I know from other contexts that when the boss is away, everything works a little worse. It was the same in Steiner’s time. When he wasn’t in Dornach but in Stuttgart or Prague, then everything was a bit more easygoing.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Biemond It must have been something like that. And I find it’s important to know about such things, because they were all human beings, too. But, she guarded the studio; she made sure that the humidity was right and that everything went on as it should. We mustn’t forget the scale of this work of art!

Edith Maryon, source: Rudolf Steiner Archive

What does it mean to work on a sculpture nine metres [29.5 ft.] high, almost twice as high as Michelangelo’s David?

Schnetzler You have to become one with this enormous material and grasp the whole, because you only ever see one detail at a time. All the connections, proportions, relationships: everything has to merge into a flow and a composition. It takes an enormous amount of imaginative force to develop a model that has a coherent effect in such large proportions. You have to be able to cope with this mass and to confront these figurations that are larger than you are. It’s magnificent because you can then work with your whole body.

What did it mean for Edith Maryon to shape the forces of evil in her artistic work?

Schnetzler You can sense the quality of evil directly in your body—what these forces do in you, what effects they have. I believe it can also be a purifying process to bring evil into representation. At the same time, I suspect that bringing these forces to the point of solidification in the wood goes all the way into the physical. And in the resolution, these are extreme tensions that one is engaging with. It can become an experience of an existential boundary. On top of that, you are challenged to work physically through a block of wood of enormous girth, more so as elm is a very hard wood and offers a lot of resistance.

Do you have any points of view as to why this particular motif was intended for the sculpture?

Biemond Rudolf Steiner calls the sculpture The Representative of Humanity. But, it is, indeed, a representation of Christ. He avoided the word. In historical depictions of Christ, we find the birth, the baptism, the crucifixion, and eventually the resurrection. These are the classical motifs depicted millions of times in Christian iconography. Yet, what did Edith Maryon and Rudolf Steiner present? That is interesting!

If you want a biblical equivalent, I think they depict the time shortly after the three temptations. Here, we have to add Steiner’s interpretation of the Gospels. I believe it has not been given enough recognition that he chose this moment as the all-decisive one. The striding human being who, both in terms of the soul and for world history, accords these forces their evolutionary place. At the same time, it is about the temptation of Christ.

For me, this singular interpretation of Christ has brought me so much closer to Christianity. In contrast to the usual interpretation of the Bible, Rudolf Steiner describes how Christ partly fails. He fends off two of the temptations, but not entirely the third. In my view, this is still far too little understood, and I stammer to find words for it. What happens here is that pupil and master unite, because the stages from apprentice to journeyman to master are a crossing of boundaries, but, even more so, an expansion. And mastery? What binds together master, journeyman, and apprentice is that they are all apprentices. This is Steiner’s interpretation of Christ.

Christ is enticed three times after his baptism. The devil tempts him to sit enthroned in his kingdom, to jump from the battlements and prove his divinity, and finally, to turn stones into bread. Rudolf Steiner considers the three temptations in his Fifth Gospel as enticements from Lucifer, then from Lucifer and Ahriman, and then from Ahriman alone. With the third temptation, to turn stones into bread, according to Rudolf Steiner, Christ partially failed with his words, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Christ had never been incarnated, had known too little about what nutrition meant for earthly creatures, and was, in this way, not fully prepared for this temptation. And that, in my view, is the central reason for this motif.

Are you describing the God who becomes so human that he is also able to err?

Biemond Let’s say he is allowed to learn. That is crucial for me: there could not be a more central Christian moment. The understandings of religion that I know always have the perfect, the all-knowing Father, Son, or Spirit in mind. Of course, the New Testament talks about compassion, and the churches have taken this up. Gentleness and love, in the New Testament, have taken the place of the judging God of the Old Testament. This is where Rudolf Steiner, with Edith Maryon, brought in the aspect of the learning, developing being. Today, we are familiar with the idea that we human beings are evolving ourselves further, perpetually, right up to to the point we draw our last breath—life long learning has become a mainstream idea the last decades. That this might also apply to the higher and highest spiritual beings—that they, too, are on the path—is a completely new thought. Rudolf Steiner spoke about this at the Cologne lecture [in the Fifth Gospel], which he then paraphrased and continued in Berlin. This became the theme of Maryon’s life.

Steiner describes having seen Christ—spiritually—and is now transposing his experience in co-creation with co-workers. Now, he wants to bring it artistically into an image, to, thereby, let it become a narrative. This is a process, in my words, of love.

How was it that the wooden sculpture did not fall victim to the fire at the First Goetheanum?

Biemond The historians are puzzled by this. Many members pushed for the sculpture to be erected, and then there was an inexplicable series of delays. Some things were implemented very quickly, but in this case, there was always another pause and another delay. It remains a mystery. In his book about Edith Maryon,4 Peter Selg formulates one reason that could be worded as: Steiner considered the membership to not be ready.

There is another biographical element that is very exciting and explains why we are sitting here in the eponymous Edith Maryon Foundation. Edith Maryon deeply understood Rudolf Steiner’s idea of the threefold social organism and translated his Key Points5 into English. When rents tripled here at the Rhine’s knee [bend in the Rhine river in Basel, Switzerland], in parallel with German hyperinflation, she said: “Now we are going to build; now we need to build apartments.” A few months later, the eurythmy houses containing 18 apartments, were ready. They were originally called English houses, since she had organised the means for the building from Great Britain and New Zealand.

Is this the background to the Edith Maryon Foundation?

Biemond Yes, the span from the social to the pictorial-architectural-sculptural. The Edith Maryon Foundation is committed to social forms of home ownership, nowadays called “steward-ownership.” Another main topic for the Foundation is her communication with Great Britain. She was, so to speak, a bridgehead, translator, and correspondent for Steiner’s journeys to Great Britain. There is also the tragedy that she was ill and could not be accepted onto the Executive Board, although Steiner had apparently asked her despite her illness. She declined for health reasons but continued her work as section leader. And it would be 1984 before someone from the English-speaking world joined the Executive Board again.

What do you associate with the personage of Edith Maryon?

Biemond She was a leading master student of Steiner and, at the same time, intimately connected with the theme of her life’s work: the evolving human being in emulation of the evolving Christ.

Schnetzler Expertise, purposefulness, loyalty, and striving for truth. To give her abilities to a community, gift her forces to a higher whole, and leave her own artistic path behind—I have the greatest admiration for this.

A commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of Edith Maryon’s Death was held on May 2, 2024, at the Goetheanum, Dornach and the Rudolf Steiner School in Jakobsberg, Basel and organised by the Visual Arts Section and the Edith Maryon Foundation. An exhibition about her work is on display at the Goetheanum until September 15 2024.

Translation Joshua Kelberman

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  1. Mirela Faldey, David Hornemann v. Laer, Im Spannungsfeld von Weltenkräften: Der Menschheitsrepräsentant in Rudolf Steiners Skulptur, Malerei und Glasradierung [In the Field of Tension between World Forces: The Representative of Humanity in Rudolf Steiner’s Sculpture, Painting and Glass Etching] (Dornach: Verlag am Goetheanum, 2020).
  2. Editor’s Note: The Edith Maryon Foundation works to remove land, property and real estate from speculation, ensuring affordable residential or commercial space and supporting social and cultural projects. A number of historic buildings and large public meeting spaces in Basel and across Switzerland and Germany are under their care. More at Edith Maryon Foundation.
  3. See, among others, Rudolf Steiner, “The Dedication of the New Berlin Branch Space,” in Rosicrucianism Renewed: The Unity of Art, Science, and Religion. The Theosophical Congress of Whitsun 1907, CW 284 (Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks, 2007), lecture on May 5, 1909.
  4. Peter Selg, Edith Maryon—Rudolf Steiner and the Sculpture of Christ in Dornach, Steinerbooks 2023.
  5. Rudolf Steiner, Towards Social Renewal, CW 23 (Forest Row, East Sussex: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000). Published in German as Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage [The Key Points of the social Question].

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