Raissa Maritain, wife of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, recorded a most important memoir and portrait of several members of the circle of artists who were vital in the last revival of neoclassicism – which was also a revival in faith and the arts before the the first world war. Its influence continued into the 1920’s and beyond. The artists included: Georges Rouault – painter; Paul Claudel, poet and playwright; Arthur Honegger, composer; Leon Bloy – writer and modern day prophet; Charles Peguy – writer; Jacques Maritain – philosopher and esthete; and Jacques Riviere – the publisher and critic who was the first to recognize Marcel Proust. Claudel was a close friend of the composer Darius Milhaud and collaborated with him on several important works.
Raissa Maritain, before she married Jacques, was a graduate student at the Sorbonne under Henri Bergson’s tutelage.
Raissa Maritain’s book was originally called “Les Grandes Amities” (Great Friendships). It was a direct inspiration on the formation of this think tank.
Although the movement and artists described in this book were very great and their impact important, they were critiqued in retrospect by Henri Peyre, an amazing scholar on neoclassicism, as being not purely neoclassical. He said that they were a little bit too reactionary to the France of their day, and a bit too formalist in their work. Peyre rightly maintains that true classicism must be truly universal. While this does not diminish at all my admiration for the French revival Raissa Maritain describes, I agree with Peyre on the point of being universal – and ideally we (this group) will stand for that.