The Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation Archives
Olga de Hartmann (1885–1979)
Olga de Schumacher was born on August 28, 1885, in St. Petersburg to parents of German-Lutheran ancestry. She said, "From an early age, I always had a religious feeling."1 She lived a rich childhood supported by parents who, though aristocrats and her father a high-ranking official in the government, spent hours with their children playing chess, reading literature and philosophy, and attending numerous cultural events, including music recitals. As a young woman, attending a recital of Thomas de Hartmann's music, she met the composer at intermission and felt as though the two had long ago known one another. They were married in 1906 and Olga recounts, "The sister of the Tsar was present and the church was filled with Guards officers and high dignitaries." Thomas's music so impressed the Tsar that he was released from active duty in the military, instead assuming a reserve officer post, which allowed the couple to spend much of the time from 1908–1912 living abroad in Munich.
In Munich the couple developed a connection to other artists, in particular a close friendship with Wassily Kandinsky, and through them a desire to search deeper into art and eventually into esoteric ideas. In 1916 Thomas de Hartmann met Gurdjieff. He told Gurdjieff that he and his wife were "searching for a way to develop."2
On February 9, 1917, Mme de Hartmann met Gurdjieff in Ouspensky's St. Petersburg apartment. She asked Gurdjieff if there was any way for her husband to avoid being sent to the front. Gurdjieff replied there was not, "When you live among wolves, you have to howl like a wolf; but you should not be taken over with the psychosis of war, and inside you should try to be far removed from all this."3 Mme de Hartmann was also initially concerned when Gurdjieff said, "Love is the strongest obstacle to man's development." She concluded that in order to develop, she and Thomas would have to separate. She was soon relieved when Gurdjieff told her, "But if it is real love, with each one wishing to help the other, then it is different; and I am always glad if husband and wife are both interested in these ideas, because they can help each other."4
That same month de Hartmann left for the front, and the Tsar abdicated. Eventually, de Hartmann was sent back to St. Petersburg, with Russia teetering on the brink of revolution. It was six months before the de Hartmanns would again meet Gurdjieff, now in Essentuki. The civil war brewing, the couple, along with Gurdjieff's other pupils, followed him in crossing the Caucasus mountains. They finally settled near Sochi in the village of Uch Dere. There, de Hartmann contracted typhoid and nearly died. However, this coincided with the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution and his condition, requiring a long convalescence, exempted him from immediate return to military service. By February 1918, his medical condition would finally release him from the military, allowing the couple the freedom and relative safety to remain with Gurdjieff.5
Returning to Essentuki to acquire the necessary medical care for Thomas, the de Hartmanns were soon joined by Gurdjieff, many pupils from Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as many of Gurdjieff's relatives escaping the Armenian genocide. This began an intense period of work. Of particular note was Mme de Hartmann's consternation when Gurdjieff declared that all the women would have to surrender all of their jewelry save their wedding band and watch. She found this excruciating, but when she finally gave him a box with all her jewels, he waited for her to almost leave the room. Then, calling her back, he instructed her to keep them.
With increased danger in Essentuki from the rival armies, Gurdjieff and his pupils successfully applied to take a scientific expedition into the Caucasus. Actually, they were escaping to Sochi where they could get safe passage out of the encroaching war zone. The journey through the mountains was treacherous and the couple was robbed at gunpoint by bandits. On this occasion, Mme de Hartmann outwitted the bandits by hiding a valuable sack of jewels in her bodice.6
From Sochi the de Hartmanns traveled with Gurdjieff to Tiflis. Here they made the acquaintance of Alexandre and Jeanne de Salzmann, eventually introducing the couple to Gurdjieff. It was also at this time that they heard form Gurdjieff's brother that the White Army had confiscated their stored belongings in Tiflis. Having discovered that some of the property had belonged to an officer of the Guards (de Hartmann), they had given word that the owner could come claim their property. Realizing that a now healthy Thomas would be conscripted into the Army, Gurdjieff sent her on a solo mission to reclaim their property, as well as his remaining carpets in Essentuki. He gave her a small box containing a pill, to be taken should she run into insurmountable hardship. After a long and at times seemingly impossible journey, during which time she needed to draw upon all the resources that had been actualized within her by her Work with Gurdjieff, she arrived to her delighted husband and returned the box with the pill to Gurdjieff.
After a brief relocation to Constantinople in 1920, passing through Berlin in August 1921, finally, in July 1922, the de Hartmanns left with Gurdjieff by train for Paris. Mme de Hartmann was sent to find a large property in the vicinity of the city. Finding the Chateau de Prieuré in Fontainebleau, she needed to convince the owner, Mme Labori, to not only agree to lease the property rather than sell it to them, but also to not leave a gardener there to report on the upkeep of the property. Gurdjieff instructed her to keep the thought in her mind that the gardener would be sent away, regardless of the conversation at hand. To Mme de Hartmann's surprise, Mme Labori voluntarily conceded this.
In January 1924, the de Hartmanns accompanied Gurdjieff to America where they gave public demonstrations and attracted interest in the teaching. Performances in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago led to the founding of American groups. Pupils including A. R. Orage and Olgivanna Hinzenburg (later Lloyd Wright) remained in the U.S. when the de Hartmanns returned to France in April.
On July 8, 1924, Mme de Hartmann was in Paris with Gurdjieff. He instructed her to postpone their plans to inspect some equipment she planned to buy, instead driving her to a garage where he told her to have the car inspected, especially the steering wheel. In a break with tradition, he told her to inventory his Paris apartment and then to take the train to Fontainebleau, as he would be having lunch at an Armenian restaurant before driving back. When she arrived at the station in Fontainebleau, she was informed that Gurdjieff's Citroen had crashed into a tree and that he had been brought back to the Prieuré unconscious. For six days Gurdjieff did not open his eyes and gave only small signs of movement. Eventually Gurdjieff improved enough to eat. Within a few days, Gurdjieff (insisting he remembered nothing of the crash) told her to accompany him to the site of the crash. She tried to dissuade him but when he grew upset, she agreed, only proceeding to the car in time to cut the ignition wire before he arrived. Months later, she confessed her ploy to Gurdjieff. He grew "red as a tomato with anger," then changed his demeanor and told her it was a good thing she dared oppose him, for if he had driven that day, they would both now be dead.7
On August 26, Gurdjieff had Mme de Hartmann take dictation. That evening, he called everyone together and began reading the first two lines. He then explained that he wished her to read it, and she continued reading the text she had earlier transcribed. In it, Gurdjieff explained that the Prieuré was closed. The de Hartmanns remained at the Prieuré with several other pupils and Gurdjieff's family following the formal closure. Staying at his apartment in Paris, Gurdjieff called her to bring him coffee on the night of December 16, 1924. She was asked to take dictation of a story. It was three pages of melodrama involving fratricide. Asked if it pleased her, she replied adamantly that it did not. She was permitted to tear out the pages and throw them away. Beginning again as Gurdjieff dictated, she wrote:
It happened in the 123rd year after the creation of the World.
Through space flew the ship Karnak.8
So began the first of Gurdjieff's three series of writings, All and Everything. Mme de Hartmann had long been Gurdjieff's personal secretary. Now she became the scribe for a series of tales that A. R. Orage later described as on the level of scripture. The writing took place over six years, according to Gurdjieff's account (though she wrote that it was finished in November 1927).9 She also transcribed the Second Series, Meetings with Remarkable Men.
Gurdjieff in 1929 convinced the de Hartmanns to leave the Prieuré and to settle closer to Paris. This he reportedly did as he realized that he was surrounded with pupils dedicated to his every comfort who would spare him the necessary difficulties of life. Returning from a second voyage to America with Gurdjieff, the couple settled in a house in Courbevoie, where her parents lived with them.
The following February, Gurdjieff (preparing for another trip to New York) insisted that the de Hartmanns accompany him. Explaining that her husband was too ill and that she could not leave him, Gurdjieff demanded that they go with him or never see him again. She watched as Gurdjieff's train departed, knowing this was the last time they would see one another.
Gurdjieff moved to Paris in 1933. Several times he sent to the de Hartmanns to request their return to him. Thomas in particular had an unshakable conviction that they were not to do so. They remained in continual contact with Mme de Salzmann, who phoned them in 1949 to summon them to Gurdjieff's bedside as he died. They arrived, but Gurdjieff was too ill for them to be admitted. He died the following morning on October 29 before the de Hartmanns could see him. His fateful words to her in 1930 had proved correct.
Following Gurdjieff's death, the de Hartmanns moved to New York to assist the groups led by Lord John Pentland and they resumed their association with Mme Ouspensky in New Jersey. They also began a Work group in Toronto in 1953. Thomas De Hartmann began to write an account of their time with Gurdjieff, with Mme de Hartmann interspersing her memories. He died in 1956 after which she continued to work tirelessly, finishing the book that was published in English in 1964 as Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff. In 1992 the Definitive Edition was published, incorporating material from the original Russian manuscripts and her additions. Mme de Hartmann's memoir, "What For," is in typescript. She also organized groups in Montreal that grew into the Gurdjieff Foundation of Canada. Mme de Hartmann eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for health reasons, where she died in 1979 at the age of 94.
1. Olga and Thomas de Hartmann. Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff. ed., T.C. Daly and T.A.G. Daly (London: Arkana/Penguin Books, 1992), xxvii.
2. Ibid., 7.
3. William Patrick Patterson. Struggle of the Magicians (Fairfax, CA: Arete Communications, 1998), 42.
4. De Hartmann, 11.
5. Ibid., 37.
6. Ibid., 106.
7. Ibid., 229–30.
8. Ibid., 238.
9. Ibid., 251.