Liane Collot d’Herbois was born near Tintagel in Cornwall,
on December 17th, 1907. She was the only child of a French
aristocratic father, and a Scottish mother. They were called
Rene and Elizabeth. She lived mainly with her grandmother,
as the parents did not seem to accept her presence in their
lives very easily. Her father was also a painter, and once
when Liane discovered his studio and began painting on one
of his canvases, he was so angry that he threw her down the
In1912, when she was five, the father decided
that he wanted to try his hand at growing oranges in Australia.
Liane went with them on the long steam- boat trip to Perth.
Here she began to know and love her mother, but remained in
fear of her father. She tells a strange story of being ‘sold’
as a punishment to a Chinese laundry man, and walking away
with him not knowing if she would see her parents again. She
was in fact returned after a week, but the experience left
her in a vulnerable state, unable to trust her own parents.
After just one year of being in Australia, the mother decided
to go back to England and took Liane with her. The parents
later divorced and Liane never saw her father again.
Liane was strongly connected to the nature
of this part of the world, the wide open, wind-swept moors,
the ever-restless Atlantic Ocean where sea spray and sunlight
has such a powerful meeting. Dr Margarethe Haushka writes:
“It was significant for her life that she was born in
Cornwall, in the place where, in the play of colour elements
above the sea, the knights of the Round Table experienced
the approach of the high sun spirit, the Christ, and his immersion
into the etheric aura of the earth.” (Rudolf Steiner
has spoken about this in his lecture cycle, ‘True and
False Paths in Spiritual Investigation).’1
Liane had developed into a strong willed
little child, and was a force to be reckoned with. She was
at home running about the rough moorland in that part of the
world, and seemed to relish the drama of wild play and confrontations.
She was quick to come to the defence of someone weaker or
in trouble, and would fight any one who teased or wanted to
harm any animal that she looked after.
In 1915, at the age of 8 she became seriously
ill, and was actually pronounced dead. The obituary telegrams
had already been sent out when she started to show signs of
life again. Liane says of this time that it was so difficult
and painful to re-enter her body. She changed completely from
this time. Her curly red hair changed to straight black hair,
and she became more serious, more compassionate and more generous.
Her sympathy was quickly aroused, and instead of judging people,
she tried to understand them. During this time she remembers
being very excited and impressed with the visit of some Russian
women, and feeling that she was seeing real people for the
first time. Later the connection with the East was to become
very important to her.
When she was nine years old she came across
an artist painting on the beach near where she was living,
and was enraptured with his painting: “Everything was
golden. He did not notice me. He was painting the mist filled
air; the spume, in which tremendous colour came into being.
It was the most beautiful combination of elements.”
Liane began painting using any materials that she could get
her hands on. She sold her first painting when she was eleven,
and this enabled her to buy better painting equipment.
She lived with her grandmother while she attended a local
school at Camelford. This gave her the chance to come into
contact with real music for the first time, an experience,
which she found deeply moving. The school had a library and
she began to read widely. In particular she resonated deeply
with the ideas of Plato. She had always felt from an early
age that everything was alive, that everything had an essence,
but now through the influence of Plato’s worldview,
she started to experience the world in a lighter more joyful
Liane’s mother married again, to a
man called Bennet. Liane at fourteen years of age, went to
live with them. There was a strong mutual dislike between
herself and the stepfather. He was a man who had made his
money gambling on horses. The family’s fortunes were
erratic and home life reflected this; sometimes they ate with
aristocrats, at other times they were so poor they sat on
wooden crates. Liane was obliged to earn money, during these
times of poverty. She made sculptures for Rolls- Royce and
it is rumoured that she created the little figurine called
the spirit of ecstasy that graced the bonnet of some of the
Rolls-Royce models. She also designed advertisements for billboards.
She continued to paint and says that painting kept her alive
during this time. She would have liked to have done a training
in connection with making medicine, but her step father was
In 1924, when she was seventeen, she went
to study at the Birmingham Central School of Arts and Crafts.
She recalls how for the first time in her life she was among
people like herself. “It was the time of my life.”
She was busy all day learning how to paint and to draw and
making many new friends. She is remembered for the high standard
of her work, as one student recalls: “People had a very
high opinion of her, her work was hung in the great central
hall. Her work was very good, she made landscapes with a bold,
powerful character, more dramatic than Cezanne and more formed
than Turner.” For her final examination she took her
inspiration from Leonardo’s Last Supper. She was fascinated
both by the painter, and the picture, recognizing the depth
of Leonardo’s connection to the Christ Being. Liane’s
excellent standard of workmanship won her a scholarship to
continue her studies at the British Museum in London.
She explored many spiritual streams, and
for a while became a Buddhist. She started to work on herself
in a new way, gradually coming to an acceptance of her destiny.
She was also able to overcome the antipathy that she felt
for Bennet, her stepfather: “It changed me completely
---- Bennet and my mother were shocked, because I had become
a good person; they thought I was ill!”
In the spring of 1928, when she was twenty,
she gave a lecture on Buddhism in a Unitarian church in Birmingham.
After the lecture Olive Mathews, one of the pioneering priests
of the Christian Community, approached her and told her that
her message had an affinity with the spiritual insights that
Rudolf Steiner had brought into the world. She had come across
anthroposophy before, but now took up her reading again with
re-newed interest. Later she wrote: “Buddhism is still
my bedrock; it teaches us to love mankind. From there the
step to anthroposophy is but a small one.”
During this time she obtained permission
from the mayor of Birmingham to carry out an experiment in
the local schools. This was to include primary schools right
up to and including university. She wanted to work together
with the teachers to show them how they could observe the
drawings and paintings of their students, to determine the
student’s temperament and possible tendencies towards
various illnesses. A text on the four temperaments by Rudolf
Steiner formed the basis for this experiment. Liane was able
to offer much help and guidance to the teachers, and her collaboration
with them was a great success.
At twenty-one years of age she had an important
meeting with Rev. Adam Bittleston, another priest of the Christian
Community. This gave her the wish to seek out an anthroposophic
environment where she could use her knowledge and love of
painting to help other people.
In 1927 she became involved with Sunfield
School in Clent, a home for children with special needs. The
medical work was under the guidance of Ita Wegman, a visiting
doctor, from Switzerland. Dr. Wegman, together with Rudolf
Steiner had developed many new medical and therapeutic insights.
These formed the basis of the curative work at Sunfield.
Dr. Hilmar Walter joined the work there and
she translated an important lecture cycle by Rudolf Steiner,
‘Das Wesen der Farben’ into ‘Colour’.
This enabled Liane to study the lectures, and the reading
of the chapter entitled ‘Light and Darkness’2
in particular changed her whole understanding and perception
of colour. “Suddenly I realised what I had to do. I
saw that it was an immense task, but I said to myself: ‘even
if I only do a small part of this on earth so that others
can go further, then I will have done enough.’ The content
of this lecture made such a great impression on me because
it confirmed something. I already had an idea of these things
purely through sense perception. I was always interested in
taking up and using what I called darkness. I knew that darkness
itself could be considered as the will. It is related to the
spiritual earth. There is no word that really encompasses
it – hope, chaos, life, the will, warmth, gravity, the
strength to support, physical laws-----.” This invisible
darkness plays a pivotal role in Liane’s colour theory.
At Sunfield, she lived a life of total dedication
to the children and there was really no time for reading or
painting. Liane was to work at the home for seven years. She
loved the work because she loved the children. She had a great
sense of humour which helped her to reach the children. For
example to a child who often kept his mouth open: “You
should keep your teeth warm you know!” after 3 years
Liane started to paint with the children, and also to paint
pictures which depicted different themes to do with the festivals.
It was these pictures that impressed Ita Wegman so much, that
she invited Liane to come to Ascona to paint as much as she
In 1935 she left England and went to Arlesheim,
in Switzerland, where Dr Wegman had founded a clinic. A house
was set up for her in Ascona, where she continued her research
into all aspects of colour. She also made plant colours and
painted. Between 1939 and 1945 she was invited to work in
Dr Wegman’s clinic. Here the patients were treated on
the basis of indications given by Rudolf Steiner. Many therapies
were being developed and made available to complement the
healing process. Dr. Ita Wegman was busy in all areas as a
doctor, teacher, guide and friend. Liane had many opportunities
in the clinic to develop her therapeutic approach, working
out of the laws of light and darkness. She also worked in
a nearby curative home for children with special needs.
In Arlesheim she met Dr. Margarethe Hauschka,
one of the physicians working with Dr.Ita Wegman, who had
been asked to develop a spiritual-scientific way in which
the arts might be put to therapeutic use.
Dr. Margarethe Hauschka and Liane Collot
d’Herbois had a great understanding and respect for
each other’s work. They supported and helped each other
in different trainings and initiatives. Years later when Liane
wrote her book on ‘Colour’, Margarethe Hauschka
wrote in the foreword, “Just as Philipp O. Runge in
the past century replied to Goethe’s theory of colour
with his own work, this book is an echo or a testimony for
what Rudolf Steiner taught about colour, going a step higher
than Goethe. . . . This book luminously leads the way to a
future spiritual conception of colour and its application
in art.” 3
Meanwhile in 1937 the political and economic
situation was such that for a time Liane had to move to Ita
Wegman’s house in Paris. The house became a venue for
doctors, clients and many other visitors. It was here that
Liane met Dr. Karl König, curative educator and founder
of the ‘Camphill Movement’. Later she was to visit
and spend time in some of the Camphill centres. Three of Liane’s
frescoes are to be seen in the chapel of Glencraig, near Belfast
in Northern Ireland.
Eventually Liane was able to return to Arlesheim
to be with Ita Wegman and continue her work there. One of
her commissions was to paint frescoes in the nearby Chapel
of La Motta, in Brissago. The urn containing the ashes of
Ita Wegman rests in that chapel.
It was clear that she had a remarkable gift
for reading people’s constitutions,
temperaments and illnesses in their paintings. This was especially
helpful for teachers and doctors seeking more insights into
their pupils or clients.
Alongside her painting therapy Liane also
continued to develop her own artistic work.
In 1946 Liane met the painter and sculptor
Francine van Davelaan, a gifted painter, portrait artist,
sculptor and glass engraver. Francine recognised Liane as a master painter and made a total sacrifice of her own career to support Liane in her work. Liane moved to Holland to be
nearer to Francine, and in 1949 she found a place to live,
in a small tower in the grounds of castle Frymerson, near
Odilienberg, in Limburg. In 1951 Liane’s mother and
stepfather came to live with her, untill her mother’s
death in 1953. Her stepfather subsequently returned to England.
Francine moved in during this time to help care for the parents.
Francine became Liane’s life long companion, and was
very dear to her. They remained together for the next 33 years
untill Francine’s death in1984. During this time Francine
arranged many teaching trips abroad. They went regularly to
Aberdeen in Scotland and to London to work with a permanent
group of students. They also travelled together through Europe
giving courses, and in 1964 they made a tour of America. In
Holland, a group of people gathered around Liane - artists
wishing to learn how to paint out of the laws of light and
darkness. They became known as the ‘Magenta Group’.
In 1979 her book ‘Colour’ (part
one) was published in English by Stiching Magenta, Driebergen,
Holland. Kenneth Pride, who reviewed the book in the Christian
Community Journal (October 1980) wrote: “Those who have
been fortunate enough to see the paintings of Liane Collot
d’Herbois will recall the magical profundity of her
vision and its luminous cosmic quality. ------- This book
is primarily to be pondered on, and worked with in painting,
but it will also be of interest to everyone who strives to
bring imagination to the world drama of light and darkness
---- a real path to the spirit in art.” Colour (part
two) was published in 1981, and continues to open the way
to a profound understanding of how colours are continually
welling into the sense world out of the mother background
of the interchanging atmosphere of light and darkness.
In 1978 when Liane was seventy one, she was
introduced to Dr. Paolo Walburgh Schmidt, an anthroposophic
doctor from Leiden. He, together with painting therapist Josine
Hutchison-de Lanoy Meijer, were searching for a different
approach to painting therapy. They immediately recognised
the therapeutic potential of Liane’s approach to light,
darkness and colour. The essence being that the three-fold
cosmic space of light, colour and darkness is an image of
the three- foldness of mankind: spirit, soul and body. Light
and darkness are the doors to the incarnation path of the
ego, both from above and from below, through the upper pole
and the lower pole of man. A very fruitful and long standing
collaboration began between them from this time onwards.
In 1983 and 1984 Liane was asked to give
lessons in curative painting to a group of therapists and
doctors in the Iona building in Driebergen. These teachings
were gathered together and edited by Margreet Meijer. They
form the content of the book: ‘Light, darkness and colour
in Painting Therapy’, which was published in 1993 by
the Goetheanum Press.
The therapeutic insights that Liane shared
during this time gave the necessary background for a training
to be set up. The impulse was carried by Josine Hutchinson
and her husband, Dr. Paul Hutchinson, in close collaboration
with Liane and Dr. Walburgh Schmidt. In 1986 the first students
started to receive their training. As the number of participants
increased it became necessary to develop a more formal framework,
and a Foundation was set up. Liane herself gave it the name
of The Emerald Foundation. The school has its home in The
Hague. Liane was always available to give lectures to the
students right up until her final illness. Her words were
always inspirational and enlightening. She also made time
to see students individually, sometimes helping to diagnose
a patient’s work, sometimes giving more personal advice.
Whatever the topic, her love of the earth - the body of Christ
- and her love and perception of the spiritual in all of creation,
shone through her words.
Liane’s own artistic painting work
continued throughout her life and she was still receiving
commissions right up to the end. She was very prolific in
her output of artwork and her paintings are now to be found
in countries all over the world.
In December 1997 there was a wonderful celebration of her
paintings at the Goetheanum in Dornach. The exhibition attracted
people from all over the world and the rooms where her pictures
were hung took on the hallowed atmosphere of a chapel. She
was able to be there herself and to speak about her work to
those that were assembled. It was a fitting moment or recognition
for her life long dedication to painting, working out of the
laws of light, darkness and colour.
In the summer of 1999 Liane’s health
declined seriously and she was confined to bed. She suffered
a great deal of pain and was treated in hospital for a while.
On the 17th September 1999 she passed across the threshold.
1. Rudolf Steiner. True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation.
(Torquay, Devon, 11th-22nd August 1924) Rudolf Steiner Press,
London, 1969, 1985. (GA243)
2. Rudolf Steiner. ‘Light and Darkness—Two
World Entities’ (Dornach, 5th December 1920) in ‘Colour’.
Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1992. (GA291)
3. Liane Collot d’Herbois. Colour. Stichting Magenta,
Driebergen, The Netherlands 1985.
4. Liane Collot d’Herbois. Light,Darkness and Colour
in Painting Therapy. The Goetheanum Press. 1993.
A few of the biographical details have been taken from ‘Colour
as a Path to the Maternal Darkness’ by Maurits in t’Veld.
Sally Martin, Mapleton, May 2007.