Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn

The Meditation Drawing Screenprints of Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn

Born in London in October of 1881, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn was a Dutch spiritualist, theosophist, scholar and printmaker. Her father was Albertus Kapteyn, an engineer, inventor and the older brother of astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn. After working six years at the London site of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, he was appointed Director General in 1887. Olga Kapteyn’s mother was Truus Muysken, an activist in social renewal and women’s emancipation. Among her circle of friends were playwright George Bernard Shaw and Russian anarchist Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin. 

Olga Kapteyn’s initial education was at the North London Collegiate School where she became close friends with Marie Stopes who became a leading plant paleobotanist and founder of Britain’s first birth control clinic. Near the turn of the century, the Kapteyn family moved to Zürich, Switzerland where Olga attended the School of Applied Arts. She continued her education with a major in Art History at the University of Zürich. 

In 1909, Olga Kapteyn married Iwan Hermann Fröbe, a Croatian-Austrian conductor and flutist with Zürich’s opera orchestra; his conducting career took the couple first to Munich and later in 1910 to Berlin. At the outset of World War I, Olga and Iwan left Berlin and returned to Zürich. After the birth of twin daughters, tragedy struck the family; Iwan Fröbe perished in a September 1915 plane crash near the city of Vienna. 

Five years later, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn traveled with her father to the Swiss village of Ascona, home to the Monte Verità Sanatorium. Albertus Kapteyn bought a nearby ancient farmhouse, the Casa Gabriella, which from 1920 onwards became Olga’s home. Fröbe-Kapteyn began to study Vedic philosophy, meditation and theosophy, a philosophical system which draws its teachings predominantly from Russian author and mystic Helena Blavatsky’s writings. Among her friends and influences at this time were Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, German poet Ludwig Derieth, and sinologist and theologian Richard Wilhelm whose translation of the “I Ching” is still regarded as one of the finest.

In 1928, Fröbe-Kapteyn built an informal research center near her home. Religion historian Rudolf Otto suggested a name derived from the ancient Greek for the center, Eranos, which translates as a banquet to which guests bring contributions. Carl Jung suggested its conference room serve as a symposium site for interdisciplinary discussion and research. The annual lecture program, Eranos Tagungen, began in August of 1933. A roster of intellecuals from various disciplines were invited to give lectures on a particular topic; these lectures were then published in the Eranos year book. To illustrate each symposium, Fröbe-Kapteyn devoted her time to finding images and symbols that would best illustrate the topic.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn’s research in archetypes took her to major libraries in Europe and America. These included, among others, the British Museum, the Vatican Library, New York City’s Morgan Library and Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and Athen’s Archaeological Museum. Fröbe-Kapteyn created the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, ARAS, which housed photographs of works of art, ritual images, and artifacts of sacred traditions, as well as, world-wide contemporary art. She amassed a collection of over six-thousand works, many of which were later used to illustrate Carl Jung’s writings. Today the New York-based institution, now under the auspices of the C.G. Jung Foundation, contains more than seventeen thousand images which are currently available online.

Fröbe-Kapteyn was interested in iconography since her childhood, an interest developed as she watched her father create images from photographic film in the darkroom. After following a lengthly series of meticulously drawn experiments in geometric abstraction, she produced a series of elaborate screen-prints between 1927 and 1934. Those prints combined the high energy of the Futurist art movement with her intense study of archetypical signs and symbols. Fröbe-Kapteyn’s prints were directly influenced by the English theosophist Alice Bailey, whom she met in the late 1920s. Bailey had used art as a tool in psychotherapy; through the drawing process, subconscious messages would be placed on paper or canvas. 

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn’s prints and paintings exhibit great precision in their geometric shapes. They include diagrams of intersecting circles, which serve as an impetus for meditation, as well as, cryptic symbols enhanced with gold leaf and obscure figurative work. Fröbe-Kapteyn used a limited color palette, predominated by blue, red, gold and black. The rigid geometry of the image is reinforced by the choice of mostly cold colors which are opposed by the color black, symbolic of shadow and death, and the color gold, symbolic of light and life. The actual number of the screen-print sets Fröbe-Kapteyn produced is unknown.

A Swiss resident for most of her life, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn passed away at her Casa Gabriella in 1962 at the age of eighty-one years. The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism is still an active organization today and continues its mission with a new generation of lecturers and researchers.

Notes: A fourteen piece set of Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn’s Meditation Drawing Screenprints, produced in 1930, is housed in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicage. They are available for viewing at: https://www.artic.edu/collection?artist_ids=Olga%20Fröbe-Kapteyn

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn’s Meditation Drawing Screenprints,  available for sale, can also be found at the online site of Gerrish Fine Art located at: https://gerrishfineart.com/artist/olga-frobe-kapteyn/

The online site of the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism is located at: https://aras.org

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, Ascona”, 1933, Gelatin Silver Print, Fondazione Eranos Ascona

Second Insert Image: Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, “Reincarnation”, 1930, Screenprint, 49.7 x 36 cm Paper Size, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, “Swastika Meditation Drawing”, Screenprint with Gold Foil, Dimensions Unknown, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and Guests”, 1958 Eranos Jungian Psychoanalysts’ Conference, Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland, Gelatin Silver Print, The Israeli Museum, Jerusalem

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