From Hogarth’s satirical engravings through to membership certificates designed by Mucha, historian Lucy Inglis discovers how artists have responded over the centuries to the principles, symbolism and patronage of Freemasonry
An exhibition held in the Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall, Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry Over 300 Years seeks to bring together artists who have made significant contributions to the art associated with Freemasonry. In some cases, these are images and objects, such as books of instruction and jewels involved in masonic ceremonies. Elsewhere, abstract interpretations of masonic symbolism add a further element to the range of art on offer.
The exhibition begins in earnest at the start of the eighteenth century, when the formation of the first Grand Lodge led to the publication of Constitutions (official rule books) and lists of lodges featuring detailed engravings. The Constitutions and lists were sanctioned by the Grand Lodge of England and the artists employed on their design used biblical imagery and references to classical architecture to stress a view that Freemasonry, even in the 1720s, had a long lineage. This early series, showing work by Sir James Thornhill and John Pine in particular, is dominated by superb examples of William Hogarth’s contentious contributions to the masonic artistic canon.
Appearing on the register of a lodge on Little Queen Street, Hogarth was a Freemason by 1725. Despite being part of the brotherhood, he defaulted to his trademark satirical social commentary with The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormogons (1724). Typical of Hogarth, the Gormogons depicts real people, including James Anderson, author of the Constitutions, who is shown with his head through the rungs of a ladder, apparently engaged in kissing the buttocks of an aged crone in mocking reference to his attempts to regularise Freemasonry. Also featured is Hogarth’s Night (1738), showing Sir Thomas de Veil, a vocal critic of London’s gin trade, as an inebriated Master.
There is a strong showing of later eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century masonic art, culminating in significant works by Alphonse Mucha. The jewels and apron he designed are intriguing, while the large-scale membership certificate is particularly striking.
‘artists used biblical imagery and references to classical architecture to stress a view that Freemasonry had a long lineage’
When the Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed as an independent state in 1918, Mucha’s art played a key role in forming the state’s new identity. He even designed its new banknotes and postage stamps.
The work of Alvin Langdon Coburn will be new to many visitors. Coburn was born in Massachusetts in 1882 and took up photography at the age of eight. In his late thirties, after exhibiting successfully in New York and London, he moved to North Wales and in 1919 became a Freemason, embracing the organisation wholeheartedly. His portrait of US President Theodore Roosevelt is the most striking and well known of his photographs shown at the exhibition, although Coburn was not yet a Freemason when the image was captured in 1907.
Of the modern art featured in this exhibition, two artists are particularly prominent. Trevor Frankland, Master of Philbrick Lodge, No. 2255, in Essex in 1994, contributed (before his death in 2011) two pieces representing the journey of the Ashlar: a screen print called Ashlars in the Making (undated) and a large-scale work on wood and hardboard named The Perfect Ashlar (1972). The Perfect Ashlar has depth and layered interest well suited to its subject matter.
Yanko Bonev, a sculptor born in north-eastern Bulgaria and a former Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Bulgaria, also contributed large-scale pieces of modern art. After an early career in monumental public sculpture, he became a Freemason when the organisation was introduced to Bulgaria in the 1990s and turned his hand to smaller bronzes.
This is an exhibition that has been painstakingly put together and is adroitly pitched at the visitor who may not have considered the strong links between art and Freemasonry before. It also contains hidden depths for those with more detailed knowledge of the rites and rituals of Freemasonry and their associated histories. There is much here to discover.
Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry Over 300 Years runs until 20 September 2013, Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Freemasonry Today would like to thank Martin Cherry for his assistance in putting this article together.
‘this exhibition contains hidden depths for those with more detailed knowledge of the rites and rituals of Freemasonry’
Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry explores individual artistic responses to the values of Freemasonry and its legendary history, its symbolism and stories over the last three centuries.
Drawing on the collections of the Library and Museum and with examples from across Europe, this exhibition includes the work of William Hogarth from the 1700s, the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn from the 20th century and the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. There are also examples of the work of contemporary artists.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, from Monday 25th February to Friday 20th September 2013.
When craft becomes art
Artists have been associated with Freemasonry since the 18th century. For some, Freemasons and their lodges were a useful source of patronage, while others responded to the values of Freemasonry and its legendary history, incorporating its symbolism and stories in the art they produced. Drawing on the collections of the Library and Museum and with examples from across Europe, an exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall will explore those individual artistic responses.
William Hogarth and Alvin Langdon Coburn looked at Freemasonry within their established fields of satirical prints and photography, respectively. Many artistic styles and media across three centuries are featured, including examples of contemporary artists.
Sir James Thornhill, Hogarth’s father-in-law and the leading decorative painter of the early 1700s, was a keen Freemason. His artistic work includes the frontispiece for the 1725 engraved list of lodges. It was engraved by John Pine and Thornhill’s design shows an architect with a set of building plans that he is showing to a king, clearly a reference to masonic ceremonies.
Alphonse Mucha was a Czech artist whose poster and advertisement designs frequently featured young women in flowing robes, and were typical of the Art Nouveau style of the late 1800s. In the 1920s he designed the jewels for the then newly formed Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia.
The exhibition is open from 25 February 2013 to 20 September 2013 and admission is free
12 JUNE 2002
AN ADDRESS BY THE MW THE PRO GRAND MASTER the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
Next Tuesday we are celebrating ‘Freemasonry in the Community’ week which is fast becoming ‘Freemasonry in the Community three weeks’, with a service in St Paul’s Cathedral at 11a.m. There are still a few places available and if you have not already done so please apply for tickets today using the form provided. You might be interested to know that we have well over 1,000 events taking place all over the country during this initiative.
On Wednesday, 26 June, the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys are holding a Grand Choral Celebration here in the Grand Temple. The choir will largely comprise choristers from all over the country who have been supported by the Charity. Tickets at £10 each are available outside the Grand Temple.
Many of you may have seen the recent series on television called ‘Spooks’, some of which was filmed in this building. Filming here has proved a useful source of income for Grand Lodge, and we are grateful to the London Film Commission for supporting us. In return we are sponsoring part of the costs of a free public showing which they are arranging of the film ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. This is due to take place next Saturday evening at the Paddington Recreation Ground at 7p.m. and is open to the first 3,000 people to arrive. I don’t know what the weather forecast is for next Saturday but if you like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ do give your support.
Brethren, we have received 400 hundred possible designs for the tie competition from 124 applicants and I hope this summer will give an opportunity for the judges to suggest a short-list for consideration.
And finally, Brethren, on Thursday, 27 June, I shall be opening the exhibition of the works of the Artist-Photographer, Alvin Langdon Coburn, who was also a prolific Mason. It is being organised by the Library and Museum Charitable Trust, will be the first major exhibition of its kind that we have sponsored and I recommend a visit. Brother Coburn had a long and distinguished Masonic career in North Wales and Freemasonry was central to his life. He wrote an explanation of it which seems appropriate for our Freemasonry in the Community initiative. He said “that Freemasonry is not a thing apart, cut off from life, it is interwoven with it, and the more it is studied with a view to spiritual progress, the more enlightened one becomes, and the richer in consequence are our lives!”
Brethren, this is the last time I shall be able to address you before the summer break, but I wish you all a very time with your friends and families and look forward to seeing you again in September, when the new Masonic season starts.