Avery Drawings & Archives Collections

Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff papers, 1922-1954

Summary Information


Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (d. 1949) was a Greek-Armenian philosopher who lived and taught his "fourth way" in France. He was born sometime between 1866 and 1877 in Alexandropol, Armenia, which was then a governorate of the Russian Empire. After 1912, he began to instruct a group of students on esoteric knowledge (the source of which he never revealed but which he allegedly garnered after extensive travel throughout Asia), turning these into a type of philosophical system that today could be described as "self-help." After relocating to France, he established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, began writing his manuscripts, and engaged students in sacred music and "movements." He gathered a significant following of writers, artists, and other members of the intelligentsia from the 1920s-1940s, including this collection's co-creators, namely P.D. Ouspensky, Alfred R. Orage, and Solita Solano. Gurdjieff wrote three volumes explaining his system, which were published posthumously. Applicable to architectural researchers are Gurdjieff and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's life-long relationship. Olgivanna lived and studied at the Institute for a number of years before immigrating to the United States. She structured much of the life at Taliesin around Gurdjieff's philosophy, and the group often performed his "movements."

At a Glance

Bib ID 17702981 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Gurdjieff, Georges Ivanovitch, 1872-1949; Wright, Olgivanna Lloyd; Uspenskiĭ, P. D. (Petr Demʹi︠a︡novich), 1878-1947; Orage, A. R. (Alfred Richard), 1873-1934; Solano, Solita, 1888-1975; Djilas, Milovan, Milovan, 1911-1995; Bennett, John G. (John Godolphin), 1897-1974
Title Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff papers, 1922-1954
Physical Description 6 manuscript boxes
Language(s) English .

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.



Scope and Contents

The collection is rich in material related to Gurdjieff's teachings. It is mostly composed of manuscripts and typed lectures. It is unlikely that Gurdjieff wrote any of this material directly as his students were responsible for translating his work. Most notable is Solita Solano's notebook, which records daily life with Gurdjieff during the 1930s. There are manuscripts of each of Gurdjieff's three books, published posthumously, as well as a manuscript of P.D. Ousepneky's Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, which documents his complicated relationship with Gurdjieff. Alfred R. Orage's lectures on Gurdjieff's methods, given in New York, are included. The majority of the material are complete or partial lectures and notes, most likely recorded by his students. A long series of Q&A sessions records his methods, pedagogy, and beliefs. There is minimal material on the sacred dances.

Gurdjieff never revealed the sources of his ancient Eastern knowledge, and much of his writing can be summed up as science fiction, but he is best remembered as initiating the self-help movement. The content is primarily arranged typologically (manuscript, lectures, etc.) and secondarily by author. Series IV deviates from this arrangement as it encompasses the lectures, notes, and sacred dance material from the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Finally, Series V includes work by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, mostly from the 1950s. Due to the array of material present, it is very likely that this material comprised Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's personal collection on material related to her beloved teacher.

  • Series I: Manuscripts

    Series I is composed of manuscripts by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Milovan Djilas. Gurdjieff's three volumes are present, though only the first two are complete bound manuscripts. Subseries 4: Other Manuscripts includes Gurdjieff's other work, such as the play, The Battle of the Magicians (though it should be noted that Gurdjieff originally wrote this in Moscow circa 1912 and this is likely a much later version). Subseries 5 is a manuscript of Yugoslav author and critic Milovan Djilas. It recounts the narrative of one of Montenegro's national heroes, Marko Miljanov, who was Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's grandfather. The manuscript was likely translated by her brother, Vladimir Lazović, as Olgivanna was not fluent in Serbian. Djilas and Olgivanna maintained a friendship via correspondence (they were both Montenegrin by birth), and she held him in high esteem. The manuscript was never published. P.D. Ouspensky's Fragments of an Unknown Teaching comprises Subseries 6 and is organized by chapter.

  • Series II: Lectures and Notes

    Series II is organized into three subseries. Subseries 1 is arranged chronologically and is made up of lectures given by Alfred R. Orage in New York between 1929 and 1930. The lectures elucidate many of Gurdjieff's teachings. However, in 1930, after Gurdjieff visited New York, he disbanded the American group and accused Orage of teaching his concepts incorrectly. Subseries 2 includes two lecture series by J.G. Bennett from 1952 and 1954. Bennett was a student of Gurdjieff and wrote about his teachings until well after the death of Gurdjieff. Finally, Subseries 3 consists of an unattributed summary of lectures and the notebook of Solita Solano. Of particular importance in this notebook is an inserted sheet that documents a heated exchange between Frank Lloyd Wright and Gurdjieff during an evening in Paris.

  • Series IV: Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man papers

    Series IV is composed of papers related to the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Subseries 1: Dictations and Meetings is the largest. It contains typed lectures and notes, most likely given by Gurdjieff and then recorded and translated by students. These papers are organized geographically and chronologically as the institute moved from the Caucasus to France. After 1933, the Institute was disbanded, though Gurdjieff continued to host students in Paris. The post-1933 material is stylized as Q&A sessions, and often the students are anonymous.

    Subseries 2: Sacred Dances contains some written material related to the origins of the sacred dances and performance scripts. It includes a typed transcript of an "evening program," potentially the performance given by Gurdjieff's students of the "movements" in New York in February 1924 at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Most notably, it includes performances of the sacred movements by members of Taliesin. It includes a script for a performance at Taliesin where Frank Lloyd Wright and Iovanna Lloyd Wright gave introductory speeches, followed by a description of each movement, as well as a lecture on Gurdjieff's music, possibly given by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright to students at Taliesin, though authorship is not attributed. Also included is a program for a presentation on Gurdjieff's rituals (prayers and movements) held by Taliesin in November 1951 at the Unitarian Church of Madison.

  • Series V: Olgivanna Lloyd Wright papers

    Series V is material by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. It is mostly composed of handwritten notes and scraps with some typed material. Most of the subject matter is related to exercises, rooted in Gurdjieff methods that she and other members of Taliesin practiced. Of note is a handwritten sheet providing an autobiographical sketch of how she left Gurdjieff, moved to America, and met Frank Lloyd Wright.


This collection forms part of the larger The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Using the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Conditions Governing Use

In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Zachary Torres (Graduate Student Intern) in 2023.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Fourth Way (Occultism) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hesychasm Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Influence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man (Fontainebleau, France) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Miljanov, Marko, 1833-1901 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mystics Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Philosophers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Philosophy -- Study and teaching Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Taliesin (Spring Green, Wis.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Gurdjieff was born between 1866 and 1877 to a family of Armenian-Greeks in Alexandropol. He grew up in Kars, the ethnically and religiously diverse Transcaucasus region. He became fluent in Armenian, Pontic Greek, Russian and Osmanli Turkish, and later developed some minimal working knowledge of French and English. Little is known about his early life besides what he notes in his own writings. Though, he was supposedly close to his father and a local priest. Gurdjieff allegedly traveled widely across Central Asia, Tibet, Iran, and India to learn ancient and esoteric knowledge. He states that he joined various ancient and secret brotherhoods, lived in monasteries, and encountered various other learned individuals. However, Gurdjieff never revealed his actual sources, and students like J.G. Bennett claimed his writings were metaphorical.

After returning to Russia in 1912, he transformed his learning into a philosophical system and began to gather a group of students in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Gurdjieff fled to Turkey, Germany, and England, the latter of which refused him residence, before settling in France. In 1922, he purchased a large property, Le Prieuré, near Fontainebleau. It was here that he formally established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Students lived, worked, and learned together in an almost communal environment, though he did maintain different degrees of relationships between his pupils. It is very likely that life at Le Prieuré influenced the Wrights' pedagogy at Taliesin. Within his closest circle were the de Hartmanns (Thomas de Hartmann composed his music) and the de Salzmanns (who, after his death, founded the Gurdjieff Institute). Gurdjieff gave lectures and readings from his manuscripts and students practiced the "sacred movements" that he had imported from the East. Students also worked on building projects to create a studio space for the movements.

Gurdjieff had fraught relationships with some of his students. Ouspensky, who was amongst the first to join him in Russia, later traveled to England to teach. However, Ouspensky grew disillusioned with the Institute and Gurdjieff's teachings and eventually began to separate himself, though he still maintained some connection. Gurdieff sent Alfred R. Orage, who he had met through Ouspensky, to teach in New York in 1924. However, after Gurdjieff's visit in 1930, he ousted Orage for inaccurately teaching his concepts of "self-observation" and "self-remembering" and disbanded the group.

Gurdjieff made multiple trips to the United States, mostly on fundraising campaigns. During one trip, he visited the Wrights at Taliesin. His most successful trip was in 1924 when his students performed the sacred movements to an astonished audience at the Neighborhood Playhouse. These movements were developed by Olgivanna and Iovanna Llyod Wright as part of Taliesin's performance program.

In 1926, Gurdjieff suffered a near fatal car accident and another in 1948, both from which he miraculously recovered.

In 1932, short on funds, Gurdjieff disbanded the Institute and sold Le Prieuré. He continued to live in an apartment in Paris and frequented cafes where he wrote and met students like Solita Solano who formed part of "The Rope," though this group only lasted until 1937. During World War II, he hosted more intimate meetings with a smaller number of pupils until his death on 29 October 1949 at the American Hospital.

Gurdjieff's writings verge on science fiction and his pedagogical techniques could be abrasive. Nonetheless, he developed a contingent of loyal students, amongst them Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, who would perpetuate his philosophy. After his death, his students organized and published his manuscripts as All and Everything.