Nicholas Roerich was born St. Petersburg, Russia on September, 27, 1874. He was born in the family of a famous notary Constantine Roerich. Nicholas Roerich’smother, Maria Kalashnikova came of a merchant family.
The father of the future artist was not only a lawyer but also a forward public figure. Constantine Roerich’s notarial office was under one roof with his flat, 25, University Quay, not far from the Academy of Arts, university, Academy of Science. That’s why scientists, public figures, writers, artists predominated among his clients. In the Roerich’s drawing-room it was possible to meet D. Mendeleev a creator of the periodic table of chemical elements and a distinguished public figure, Kostomarov a historian, A. Svetov a prominent agronomist, A. Korkunov a professor of Tomsk University A., orientalists.
At the age of eight Roerich to crossed the threshold of gymnasium. “He will be a professor”, - K. I. Mai, the headmaster said taking in an estimating glance at the boy.
During the years in gymnasium he became drawn towards history and art more and more strongly. When Nicholas Roerich was nine, the famous archaeologist L. Ivanovskiy has arrived to Izvara to carry out archaeological research in its environs. The scientist liked the inquisitive pupil and he began to take him on excavations. Mysteries of ancient times acquired the greater significance for Nicholas.
The literary gift of Roerich was revealed early. He wrote down bylines (traditional heroic poem), legends and folk skaz (first-person narratives). Many copy-books were filled in with his own compositions. Roerich’s first publications appeared when he was fifteen.
In 1891 the Roerichs’ friend M. Mikeshin paid attention to Nicholas Roerich’s inclinations for painting. Since that time systematic studies had begun under the direction of a talented teacher.
By Roerich’s admission he had started to be thought about entering the Academy of Arts since he was 16. But for all that he could not accept the thought to turn down acquisition of knowledge in other fields he was seriously interested in – history, archaeology and philosophy. He made a decision to enter both the Academy of Arts and a faculty of history in the university.
But his father told him firmly that he was going to give his son a juridical education, to make him a successor of his business who will be able to put his affairs and will be helpful to the native land. That’s why in the father’s opinion the Academy of Arts should be completely excluded.
Having made the sacrifice of a faculty of history for a faculty of law young Roerich thus has defended the Academy of Arts before the father. The Family Gordian knot was cut and instead of a faculty of history I will enter a faculty of law, but I will take an examination to the Academy of Arts. After all it turned down that on a faculty of law the examinations were being passed and on a faculty of history lections were being attended.
A daily routine of student Roerich was following: rise at nine o’clock in the morning, from ten till one o’clock – studies in the Academy; from one o’clock till three o’clock – studies in the university, from three o’clock till five o’clock – work on sketches, from five clock till nine o’clock – evening classes and practical training in the Academy, from nine to twelve in the evening – reading, literary work, meetings with friends and acquaintances, participation in student coteries.
After finishing the class of painting from life the question about the choice of a studio rose. Arkhip Kuinji was very popular among students. On 30 of October, 1985 Nicholas Roerich put down in his dairy, – “A lucky occasion! I am in the studio of Kuinji” And afterwards he remembered repeatedly, – “One of the most important steps was made as easy as pie. “Not only had a teacher of painting but a teacher of life become Arkhip Kuinji”.
Arkhip Kuinji attached a specific importance to the painting from life. But nature according to Arkhip Kuinji should not deprive an artist of creative freedom. In the studio of Kuinji the spirit of close friendly co-operation reigned. Rigorous in appearance, taciturn, alien to compromises Arkhip Kuinji was warm-hearted to student needs. In his paternal attitude to students demands sincere love were combined and they answered him with confidence and gratitude for this. The personality of Arkhip Kuinji attracted young people and was a striking example of unselfish service to art.
In November 1897 a competitive exhibition and a ceremonial act of handing a diploma of artist took place in the Academy. The title of artist has been conferred upon him for his picture “Messenger -- Tribe Has Risen Against Tribe”. The canvas was acquired from the exhibition to the Tretyakov Gallery.
After the first pictures the first serious articles appeared: “Icon Tower”, “Art and Archaeology”, “On a Burial Mound”, “On Route from the Varangians to the Greeks”. In those articles Nicholas Roerich broached questions of great importance: about connections between art and science, about protection and restoration of historical architectural monument, about cultural value of an ancient Russian icon.
The 1900 brought many significant events. In autumn in Paris the World exhibition with a large art department was opened. There was also the picture of Roerich “Meeting of the Elders”.
Important changes were outlined in private life of Nicholas Roerich. He proposed to Elena Shaposhnikova, and she accepted. He father was an architect died very early. Elena’s mother named Catherine, nee Gholenisheva-Kutuzova, was a cousin granddaughter of the great commander Michael Kutuzov.
Nicholas and Elena Roerich wanted to combine a foreign trip and a honeymoon. However intended painting studies could have delayed Roerich in Paris but they have not enough money for a long stay abroad. And they decided that Nicholas would go alone and marriage was postponed till his return. In autumn, 1900 Roerich left St. Petersburg.
Fernan Cormon was considered to be an outstanding pedagogue and this fact induced him to choose his studio to continue studies. Works painted from life, which were done in Cormon’s studio “Man with a Horn”, “Male Model”, “Skulls” and others are notable for clear, well-defined drawing. The experienced teacher helped the artist to fill in the professional gaps, and didn’t suppress the peculiarities of his art.
“Originally! Typically! Curiously! Goes well! He fills the character of his land! He has a particular viewpoint!” – said Cormon scrutinizing Roerich’s works.
To learn more about classical heritage and modern tendencies in painting Roerich visited Holland, North Italy in addition to France.
The wedding of Nicholas and Elena Roerich took place in autumn. 1901, immediately after the artist’s home-coming. It was venturesome to count on income from sale of pictures and Nicholas decided to come forward as a candidate for the vacant post in the Arts Encouragement Society.
Notwithstanding that he was very busy, Roerich continued to paint. While he was abroad and soon after his return he worked on the pictures “Red Sails” (1900), “The Idols” (1901), Overseas Guests (1901), “The Ominous Ones” (1901). In 1901 Roerich finished the Overseas Guests.
Nicholas Roerich’s pictures created in 1900-1902 received recognition from the public and critics. The indefatigable Diaghilev couldn’t stay indifferent. Again he offered Roerich to take part in exhibitions “The World of Art” and join to the union.
The offer was accepted. Roerich gave his works to the exhibitions in Moscow (1902) and in St. Petersburg (1903). A just finished picture “City build” was among them. On Serov’s instance the picture was bought for the State Tretyakov Gallery.
In 1903 and 1904 Nicholas and Elena Roerich visited more than 40 Russian towns. Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhni Novgorod, Vladdimmir, Suzdal, Yurev-Polski, Rostov, Smolensk, Izborsk, Pskov were among them. Later the artist often came to Smolenshina, Valday, was in environs of Novgorod, in the Baltic States, in Karelia, Finland. Stories, time-honoured customs, clothes, architecture gave lavish food for art.
During the trips in 1903-1904 a large series of architectural sketches was created. The series contained about 90 works, : "Rostov the Great", " Pechora Monastery", "Smolensk Towers", "City Wall in Izborsk", "The Resurrection Monastery in Uglich", "Old Rskov", " Nizhni Novgorod — Kremlin Tower" were among them. On Roerich’s intention all these works should commemorate the imposing stone chronicle of the country and perpetuate greatness of soul of its builders – people. These sketches are also of great value because many of painted architectural ensembles were destroyed during the years of the Great Patriotic War.
In spring of 1906 Roerich’s appointment as director of the Arts Encouragement Society school was confirmed and he went abroad to acquaint with an art education experience. After Nicholas Roerich visited Germany, France, Swiss and Italy, he returned to St. Petersburg in autumn and started reorganization of educational affair in the Arts Encouragement Society School.
Under the leadership of Roerich the Arts Encouragement Society School changed greatly. Alexander Benuas called the change of the school a wonder, he wrote, - “the wonder happened with the help of energy of one man, of one artist Roerich, he is wining greater and greater respect for the sequence he struggle with for living art against the deadness and red tape”.
Since the middle of 1900s Roerich has started to work for theatre. Deserved, tremendous success fell to Roerich’s lot in 1909, when in the Paris theatre Shatle the new “Russian season” opened. Roerich designed the décor for Polovtsian Dances from the play Prince Igor by Borodin and Pskovitanka by Rimsky-Korsakov.
One more staging to which Roerich paid much attention was Snow Maiden by N.Rimsky-Korsakov. This play fascinated him then he was young. The first staging of Snow Maiden in Roerich’s décor was in Paris ”Opera Соmique” in 1908, the second one in St. Petersburg in 1912 and the third one in Chicago in 1922.
In 1912-1914 Roerich was working a lot on décor for plays Princess Marlen and Sister Beatris by Maeterlinck. This works were appreciated by Maeterlinck himself and A. Benois, a theatre connoisseur.
The special place among Roerich’s works occupies the ballet The Rite of Spring to music by Stravinsky. This work absorbed Roerich. Even many years later being far from the motherland Roerich remembered “great rhythms of human aspirations” which were put in music of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. He wrote, - “We couldn’t treat The Rite of Spring as a mere Russian or Slav. It is more ancient, it is human”.
Stravinsky and Roerich decided to make a ballet “Great Sacrifice” (original name for The Rite of Spring), moreover the plot offered by Roerich formed the basic of the ballet. Nicholas created completed version of libretto and all sketches of scenery and costumes. In the beginning of 1912 Stravinsky finished to write music and made instrumentation. In a year this music received recognition from the public as Diaghilev called it “The Ninth Symphony of New Time”.
In 1906-1914 Roerich took part in foreign exhibitions of Russian art. Paris, Venice, Berlin, Rome, Brussels, Vienna, London acquainted with Roerich’s art. His paintings were bought by the Rome National Museum, Louver and other museums in Europe. In 1909 Nicholas Roerich became the academician of the Academy of Arts and the member of the Rheum Academy in France.
Vast knowledge and his love of antiquity developed sensitivity and gentle attitude to old traditions of the Old Russian icon-painting. “Angels’ Treasure”, “Boris and Glebe”, “Apostles Peter and Pavel”, “St. Michael the Archangel” made in 1904-1907 these easel-painting compositions and sketches for mosaic pictures are referred to the most famous works painted on the religious topics. All these works are created on the base of the thorough study of the Old Russian painting.
Roerich revealed the essence of a religious topic peculiarly. In this attitude the décor of the Holy Ghost Church in Talashkin (1914) attracts a special attention. An amazing mosaic on the portal of the temple is conspicuous even from a distance. It glares with fiery-red, golden, turquoise tones. The central part of the mosaic occupies a very large image of Miraculous Saviour. This image is concise and reminds icon-painting of XII-XIII centuries. Mournful, penetrating eyes of Christ are full of human sufferings.
Nicholas Konstantinovich felt that his epoch was the epoch of radical historical changes. The topic of revenge was accented in Roerich’s art for the first time in 1914 just before the war. It was reflected on canvas The Last Angel. Over the earth that is in flames in crimson clouds there is an apocalyptic angel which renders according to deserts for evil made; and there are flashing summer lightning’s on the skyline they notify about new life on the purified earth.
Practically at the same time the other canvas “Sword of Valor” (1912) appeared. An angel brought a sworn to sleeping guard. The time to meet envy being well-armed has come.
Here Roerich brands barbaric destruction of cultural monuments in Luviena, Shantiniya, Rheims. The poster was sent to armies and military zones. He addressed to the General Headquarters of Russian army and to the American and French government with an offer to ensure safety of cultural property in the war-time by the means of appropriate understanding between the countries.
At the beginning of 1915 Nicholas Konstantinovich caught pneumonia. The state of his health was very poor. And in the May a medical certificate appeared in the newspaper “Stock Register”. Roerich’s health was recovering slowly. Frequent bronchitis and pneumonias forced the doctors to make a conclusion that a big city is bad for the artist. Roerich didn’t want to be out of business that’s why he rented a house in pine forest in Sortval and moved there with his family in December, 1916. Nearness to Petrograd let him to go there from time to time and take part in the Arts Encouragement Society School affairs. Meanwhile attacks of the illness sometimes got worse and in May of 1917 Roerich drawn up his will.
After the October Revolution Roerich managed to visit Petrograd only once. In May 1918 the state frontier between Finland and Russia was closed.
In summer of 1918 Roerich became fortified in health at last. In addition to pictures evoked by Kaelian north landscapes “Holy Island”, “North Islands”, “Not Gone Yet”, “Rocks and Cliffs”, “Ladoga”, “The North” and others Nicholas Konstantinovich conceived a suite “Heroica” and created even sketches for it: " Hidden Treasure", "Brew of the Noyda", " The Command", "Sacred Fire", "They Await", "End of the Giants", "Conquerors of the Treasure". The motive this series is built on is the Scandinavian mythology but mythological characters are just participants and with their help the artist convey his perception of current affairs allegorically.
In 1918 the letter from Swiss was received. Pictures of Russian artists still remained there after the Baltic Exhibition in 1914. The professor Oscar Biork invited Roerich to visit Stockholm and to find out about the state of Russian art department.
Roerich availed himself of the invitation immediately and made arrangements to organize an exhibition in Stockholm. He added the pictures of the last years to those thirty ones which were left in Swiss after the exhibition of 1914. New pictures: “Messenger of the Morning, "Call of the Sun", Ecstasy, “Knight of the Night", " North of the Islands ", "Not Gone Yet" were painted in Karelia. The exhibition opened in Stockholm in 8 November of 1918 had a great success. Many pictures were sold in museums and private collections. Roerich’s name appeared in European newspapers.
At the end of March Roerich and his family left Finland. On his way to England he stopped in Copenhagen where his exhibition went successfully. In autumn of 1919 Roerich was already in London but his mind was inn India. And when Rabindranat Tagor who came to England and called on Roerich he saw the artist was working on the picture "Dreams of the East". Nicholas Konstantinovich dreamt about meeting with a famous Indian writer and thinker for a long time.
An unforeseen delay in London induced him to accept an offer of
a director of Chicago Institute of Arts R. Harshe to make an exhibition tour in
the USA. A personal exhibition of Roerichs’ works was opened in December, 1920
in Kingor Gallery, New York, USA. "Treasure of the Angels" (1905), Evening
(1907), “Varangian Sea” (1910), The Last Angel (1912), Ecstasy (1917), Viking’s
Daughter (1917), “Call of the Sun” (1918), “Not Gone Yet” (1917), sketches to
series “Heroica” and “Dreams of the Orient” sketches of scenery for “Princess
Marlene”, Snow Maiden and others.
A vice-president of Roerich’s Museum in New York and Roerich’s future collaborator Z. G. Fosdic remembered about exhibition: “Roerich’s art became a topic of the day in the press… the success was fantastic!”
In three years moving from town to town the collection was added new pictures created in the USA. In summer Roerich visited Arizona, New Mexico, California, was on island Mohegan and created series of pictures “New Mexico” and “Ocean Suite”. Admired Americans saw landscapes of their native country in a new way showed in these pictures by Russian artist.
Simultaneously Roerich created rather unusual for the west audience series called “Sancta” (literally “The Saint” Nicholas Roerich himself liked the word “ascetic”). This series included: And We Open the Gates, And We Bring the Light, And We Continue Catching, And We Toil, And We Are Not Afraid, And We See, He Went Away, “Saint Sergius”. In these canvas Roerich represented nature, he was accustomed to and the Old Russian architecture. On their background the scenes of ascetic’s life are presented. Their artless labour, spiritual purity are conveyed so exciting and sincerely that these pictures are still touch the audience.
The artist struggled for the art which could bring different nations closer to each other. Roerich was led by this idea and organized Institute of United Arts in New York in 1921. Setting tasks of the Institute he wrote: “Art will unite humanity. Art is united and indivisible. Art has many branches but the root is only one. Everyone feels the Truth of Beauty. The Gate of scared origin should be open for everyone. Light of art will illuminate the numerous people hearts with new love. This feeling will come instinctive at first, but then it purifies human consciousness. There are so many hearts which are looking for something beautiful and sincere. Do give them what they want! Do give art people where it belongs!”
Practically at the same time “Cor Ardens” Artist Association in Chicago was organized and in 1922 “Corona Mundi” International Cultural Centre appeared. Its task was to provide cooperation of cultural and public figures from different countries. In the beginning of 30s the World League of Culture was found.
The program of the League stipulated hat ideas about peace in the world and protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historic monuments. It was supposed to support scientific experiments and go into the questions of maternity and children’s bringing up, and exchange cultural achievements of other countries.
Notwithstanding that Roerich was very busy with social activity; he found time for painting, theatrical work, archaeological research, journalism. Roerich left New York a month earlier than he had supposed. He stayed in America from October 2, 1920 till May 8, 1923. After it he visited America three times: in 1924, 1929, and 1934. On November 17, 1923 after the artist’s departure from America Roerich’s friends and supporters opened Roerich’s Museum in New York. Nicholas Roerich sent more than 300 his works there.
Thoughts about synthesis of searches of Russia and Orient didn’t leave Roerich. These two countries were like beacon on his way to new era in history of people.
Sale of pictures, royalties for scenery décor, and publications of numerous articles provided Roerich with opportunity to work productively in scientific field and make preparations for a trip to India. Soon this trip took place.
On December 2, 1923 Roerich wired about safely arriving. The Roerichs stayed in Bombay and began a tour of cultural centers and historic sites. Then they visited Djaipur, Agra, Sarnath with their ancient Buddhist monuments, Benares, Calcutta and moved to the north. More than three thousand kilometers were crossed in a month. They met Indian scientists, scholars, artists, and writers along the way.
By the end of December they were already in Sikkim located near Djardgiling city on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and it is clear by the speed with which they reached the mountains that the Himalayas were where Roerich’s interest lay.
Members of the expedition showed a great interest in studying the ancient Buddhist written sources. A valuable collection of Tibet painting was gathered.
In a month after his arriving in India he wrote: “Series of pictures are already formed in my mind: 1. "Pearl of Searching", 2. "Burning of Darkness". In 1924-1925 work under cycles Sikkim Pass, His Country, Birth of Mystery, Maitreya, “Teachers of the East”.
Roerich showed himself as an unsurpassed master of mountains. He was convinced that mountains helped a man to find courage and develop strength of spirit. Truth of life of Roerich’s mountain landscapes is understandable for rebellious travelers to unknown. That’s why cosmonauts tell about Roerich’s art with admiration.
Roerich stayed in Sikkim in Talai Pho Brang House near Djardgiling. According to the legend a popular Dalailama V stayed in this house long ago. The place attracted many pilgrims since that time.
Conversations with scientists and public figures of Orient and results of first expeditions in Sikkim made Roerich’s intention to undertake a great trip to the Central Asia. The program of the expedition included scientific research and painting.
On September, 1924 Roerich left Sikkim for Europe and America. Thanks to his American colleagues’ connections and their energy he easily got a permission to travel under American flag and Roerich put all necessary papers in order.
The second problem to be solved was to inform the Soviet government about Roerich’s intention to visit USSR and obtain consent. That’s why it was necessary to establish connections with Soviet representatives abroad. On his way back from the USA Roerich visited the Soviet representation in Berlin.
After his visit he immediately left for Asia. In the beginning of 1925 Roerich visited Indonesia and Ceylon where the centre of Buddhist branch hinayani was. He left Ceylon for Madras. For the first time he visited Theosophical Centre in Adijar and got acquainted with its leaders. Nicholas Roerich offered to open E. P. Blavatskaya The asophical Society Museum and made his contribution – picture "Messenger".
Roerich spent several days in Adijar then he went in Sikkim through Calcutta. In March, 1925 he sent his expedition from Djardgiling to Shrinagar (Western Himalayas), the capital of Kamshir.
The trek was long and arduous at times. A lot of obstacles sprang up in front of the expedition. English secret service knew about Roerich’s visiting Berlin and the expedition crossing the territory of Kamshir met unexpected obstacles up to armed attacks.
In any case the expedition managed to pass the ancient road from Shrinagar to Lekh and explore ancient art monuments in Maulbeck, Lamajur, Bazghu, Saspul.
In Ladack the expedition spent more then two months. After Ladack the expedition went in the direction of Khotan. Seven difficult mountain passes higher than 5000 meters – Khardong, Karabul-daban, Saser, Dapsung, Karakorum, Sughet and Sandgu and bad conditions lain ahead of the expedition.
In several passes caravan turned out to be in snow kingdom. Cold weather didn’t let to hold pencil or brush in hand for a long time, but Roerich had very good visual memory and he was able to show this wondrous nature in his canvas.
During the forced stop in Khotan Nicholas Roerich created series called Maitreya (1925-1926). The series contain seven pictures: Shambhala Goes, "Horse of Happiness", "Walled Stronghold", "Banner of the Coming One", "Power of the Caves", "Whispers of the Desert" и "Maitreya the Conqueror" and Maitreya the Winner. The idea to create this series appeared because Roerich was deeply impressed by an old Tibet picture The Red Horseman which Roerich bought in Ladack. Thanks to the quick measures Roerich’s caravan managed to break through Khotan and on December 13 they reached Kashghar. From Kashghar the expedition arrived safely at Urumchi on April 11, 1926.
In Urumchi Roerich stayed to wait when Soviet visa would be ready. Almost every day he visited Soviet consul A. Bistrov. Then the telegram from Chicherin came. It allowed expedition members to enter the USSR. On May 16, 1926 the Roerichs left Urumchi. On May 29, 1926 the Roerichs with two companions from Tibet crossed the Soviet frontier near Zaisan Lake. On June13 they were in Moscow.
In Moscow Roerich had conversations with G. Chicherin and A. Lunacharsky. They both showed a great interest in artist’s stories about India and Tibet and his future plans to explore Asia. Nicholas Roerich gave Chicherin a casket filled with scared for Indians Himalayas earth and message to Soviet people.
Roerich and his companions left series Maitreya in Moscow and went further. Altai was little-explored region and Roerich decided to go there. He was allowed to go and they promised to help him with expedition equipment for returning in India.
From Altai they came to Ulan-Ode through Barnaul, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and on September 9, 1926 went to Ulan-Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Not long before departure from Ulan-Bator Roerich gifted the picture Rigden Djapo – Shambhala Ruler (The Great Horseman) to Mongolia Respublic Government. The picture practically repeated Shambhala Goes but the artist created it in Mongolia painting traditions, he used vivid, clear colours, without half-tones. In the lower part of the picture Roerich represented a meeting of the Great Hural at the foot of the mountain Bogdo-Ula.
From all the expedition members the whole route was overcome only by Roerich himself, his wife and his son Yuri. In three years they covered approximately five thousands kilometers. To find permanent staff for such a long journey was impossible.
On April 13, 1927 the expedition left Ulan-Bator and moved in south-western direction to Mongolia frontier point – Yum-Beisse monastery. This part they managed to go by cars. After they passed Ansy the expedition went to high-mountain pastures Shara-Ghola. On the river bank a camp was made and the expedition spent there June and July, 1927. Small groups left camp for short periods to collect handy material near Caydam. And in the camp they prepared for a very long trip.
Nicholas Roerich was interested origin of Geceriada, the grandiose poem which was called Iliada of the Central Asia by western scientists. Different variations of this poem were widespread on the territory from the North India to Amour River and from the Great China Wall to the shores of Lena River. Roeich’s expedition crossed the places where the national hero named Gheser-khan, a son of a bondwoman according to the legend headed the struggle of oppressed people against local feudal lords and foreign invaders in XI century.
The expedition established that the complete Tibet variant of Geceriada consisted of 16 volumes and some chapters contained several hundreds pages. Numerous Mongolian, Buryat, China versions also were studied.
On August 19 the expedition moved through Tibet plateau to Nagcha.
On September 20 the expedition run into the first Tibet point where Nicholas Roerich produced his passport issued by a representative of Lhasa in Ulan-Bator. Commander of the point confiscated the passport and said that it would be sent to the authorities and the expedition could move further. But on October 6 in Chunarcan Roerich’s caravan was stopped by the strong Tibet forces.
Severe winter came and even local people who lived in cold proof yurts suffered a lot. The expedition members had only summer tents. The whole staff behaved bravely. Scientific work never stopped. The nearest environs were explored, drawings and plans were made, the collections of minerals and plants were replenished.
The expedition overcame all the difficulties and worked till warm spring days. But there were also great losses. Five people died from cold during the winter. Almost all camels died and only two were able to continue the journey. The film was spoilt because of the differences in temperature. In any case the most part of the collections gathered and more then 500 pictures made were saved.
On March 4, 1928 the expedition was allowed to leave the stop which was in two-day trip to Nagcha Tower, where were all necessary things to equip several caravans like Roerich’s one was. Roerich was explained that Lhasa government refused to adopt Tibet passport which was issued in Ulan-Bator and they forbade the expedition to go to Lhasa. They showed Roerich the roundabout way which ran in western direction from Lhasa.
On March 6, 1928 Roerich’s caravan went according to the ordered way. It delayed their return in India for two months but was very interesting from the viewpoint of scientific finds and art work. Nicholas Roerich seized the opportunity to explore northern spurs of Trans-Himalayas where Russian and West European travelers didn’t reach. Yuri Roerich managed to acquaint with many Tibet dialects which were unknown to Orientalists.
On May 28, 1928 the expedition arrived at Djardgiling from where on March, 1925 Roerich started the journey. His way through Goby, Nan-Shan, Cyaidam and Eastern Tibet to India could be called a triumph of Russian explores of the Central Asia. Dozens of mountain peaks and passes were marked on the map for the first time and found out exactly, unknown archaeological monuments were registered, rarest manuscripts were found, descriptions of national customs and traditions were made, and rich lingual materials were gathered.
About this grandiose expedition we can read in Nicholas Roerich’s books: The Heart of Asia, Altai-Himalayas, Shambala Ligting, Yuri Roerich also wrote some books: Wild Style of North Tibet Nomads, Paths of the Central Asia, there were many scientific articles wrote.
Vast scientific materials gathered by Roerich needed to be systemized and processed. There were thousands of archaeological, geological, botanic and other finds. Hundreds of sketches made on their way pulled the artist an easel.
Roerich enlisted Indian, American and European Scientists’ aid and on July, 1928 in Sikkim he found Himalayan Research Institute named Urusvati translated it meant the Light of the Morning Star.
However Roerich left Sikkim. He wanted to see the Kulu Valley, the cradle of cultural monuments which had existed more than two thousand years ago. In archaeological, historical, philological, botanic, geological respect the whole North Pendgab and the west part of Himalayan Range were an inexhaustible source of materials for Urusvati Institute, that’s why Nicholas Roerich decided to move there.
In a few months after their migration to Kullu Nicholas and Yuri Roerich went on business in Europe and America. It was necessary to establish contacts with western scientific establishments.
Art and scientific world of America met Roerich with a great interest.
During Roerich’s five-year journey American Enlightenment Organizations created with Roerich’s participation became stronger and larder. On October 7, 1929 there was ceremonial opening of the Museum in a new building. Roerich replenished the collection of e museum with hundreds of pictures which were created during his journey through Asian countries. In the skyscraper many other Enlightenment and Cultural Organizations took place. Among the honored members of organizations connected with Roerich’s activity there were Milliken, Einstein, G. Bose, Kumar Haldar, Rabimdranat Taghor, Stokovsky, Ignacio Suloaga and many others.
Banner of Peace
In 1929 Nicholas Roerich raised question about the protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historic monuments in the years of war for the first time. Being in Europe Roerich stated his plan in front of G. Shklaver, a doctor of international law and politic sciences and Joffr de la Pradel and asked them to consider the project of the Pact and get agreement on the international law. In 1929 the complete text of the Pact with Roerich’s accompanying message to the people of all nations were published. The first and the second one paragraphs of the Pact said:
“The historic monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational and cultural institutions shall be considered as neutral and as such respected and protected by belligerents. The same respect and protection shall be due to the personnel of the institutions mentioned above. The same respect and protection shall be accorded to the historic monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational and cultural institutions in time of peace as well as in war. In order to identify the monuments and institutions mentioned, use may be made of a distinctive flag”.
Roerich offered and distinctive flag and called it The Banner of Peace. It should be placed on he objects which must be protected. The design of the Banner shows three spheres surrounded by a circle, in magenta color on a white background. The Banner of Peace symbol has ancient origins. Of the many national and individual interpretations of this symbol, the most usual are perhaps those of Religion, Art and Science as aspects of Culture, which is the surrounding circle; or of past, present, and future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of Eternity.
Roerich’s idea was supported by progressive public. R. Rollan, B. Shaw, T. Mann, A. Einstein, H. Wells and many others approved Roerich’s initiative. In 1930 the draft of the Pact was submitted to the International Intellectual Cooperative Committee for consideration. Nomination of Roerich’s candidature for Nobel Prize showed the effect which his offer made.
When Nicholas and Yuri Roerich returned in Kullu, they continued to organize work of Urusvati Institute. Roerich enlisted dozens of scientific establishments of Asia, Europe and America for cooperation and exchanging information. The work of the Institute was supervised by Yuri Roerich.
Great work was done in the sphere of Oriental Linguistics and Philology. The rarest written sources of many centuries standing were gathered and translated into European languages. Forgotten dialects were studied.
Svetoslav Roerich was engaged in questions concerned with Tibet and local pharmacopoeia. He also studied ancient art of Asian people.
Specialists and temporal collaborators which were invited gathered botanical and zoological collections. Materials from Kullu had been received by Michigan University, New York.
Garden, Pendgab University, Paris Museum of Natural History, Harvard University
in Cambridge, Botanical Garden at the Academy of Science in USSR. A famous
Soviet botanist and geneticist academician N. Vavilov appealed to Urusvati
Institute for scientific information and received seeds for his unique botanical
Groups of scientists worked in Kullu Valley and far from it. Asian hikes of Nicholas Roerich enriched science by the large number of new facts.
Roerich was a member of French Prehistoric Research Society, a member of Yugoslavia Academy of Science and Art, a member of Academy at the International Science and Literature Institute in Boloniya (Italia), a vice-president of Mark Twain Society (USA), an honored a member of Paris Antique Dealers Society, a honored protector of the Historical Society at the Paris Academy, a member-founder of the Ethnographic Society in Paris, an honored member of New York Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments Society, an honored member of Djagis Bosse Institute in Calcutta, a member of Bengali Royal Asian Society, an honored president and doctor of Literature of the International Buddhist Institute in San Francisco, a member of the International Research Association in Paris, a vice-president of American Archaeological Institute, a corresponding member of many other scientific establishments in Asia, Europe and America. All this helped Roerich to unite efforts of single researchers and strengthen cultural and scientific bounds between Oriental and Western countries.
The Roerich Pact
While Nicholas Roerich worked in Urusvati Institute and led the expedition in Asia, The Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace movement grew rapidly in Europe and America. In 1931 in Bruges the International Unity of Roerich Pact was organized under the direction of K. Tulpanik, a member of Monuments Protection Commission in Belgium.
In September the first international conference took place in Bruges. Officials and members of social and art organizations from different countries participated in this conference.
Roerich said to the delegates: “The idea of Culture presumes no distraction or abstraction but reality of art; it is led by the wish of feat, labour, creation. The Pact itself declared the necessity for protection of the cultural product and activity of the world-both during war and peace without the roar of the guns when helpless mistakes against Culture are made”. The plan of Roerich Pact propagation in schools and universities was worked out. Relations with International Art Affairs Committee and Reduction of Arms Bureau were established.
In August, 1932 the second Roerich Pact conference was in Bruges. The conference declared the Roerich Pact Treaty to be the international document. The special exhibition was organized more then 6000 photos of unique architectural monuments which needed protection were presented there.
The third international conference was called on November, 1933 in New York. Officials from 36 countries took part there. The conference prepared a recommendation for governments of all countries to adopt the Roerich Pact.
In the late thirties there were more than 80 the Roerich societies, museums and groups in thirty countries. Among them there were Museum in New York, Paris Society, Centre in Bruges, Society and Museum in Riga, there were also small groups situated far from big cities. They conducted work connected with culture and art. Their program usually included painting, music lessons, choreography lessons, literature and Roerich Pact propagation and enlisting of local state and social organizations for ancient monuments protection. Almost all societies had committees which activity was connected with study of Orient. Committees of women movement for equal rights were created. Large organizations had editorial departments.
Thoughts about the Pact reflected in Roerich’s art. Symbol of Banner of Peace can be seen in many of Roerich's paintings created in the thirties. Madonna Oriflamma (1931) or "Madonna Oriflamma" as the artist called it was especially devoted to the Pact.
One of the most important topics Roerich worked out was Teachers. We can see philosophical concepts and ideas giving birth to visual images. Banners of the East series ("Teachers of the East") is the most notable. Being in Kashmir in 1925 Roerich put down in his dairy:
Banners of the East series was formed by: 1. "Buddha the Conqueror" – in front of the source of life. 2. " Moses the Leader" – on the peak, surrounded by halo. 3. " Sergius the Builder" – works himself. 4. "Watch on the Himalayas" - glaciers. 5. "Confucius the Just One" – exiled traveler. 6. "En-no-Gyoja" the Friend of the Travellers (Japan). 7. "Milarepa, the One Who Harkened" – perceived the dev voice at sunrise. 8. "Dorje the Daring One" – to stand face to face with Makhakala himself. 9. "Sarakha the Benevolent Arrow" –never lingers in good intentions. 10. "Mohammed on Mount Hira" – news of archangel Ghavriil, committing. 11. "Nagarjuna the Conqueror of the Serpent" – sees an omen at the lake of Nags’ Ruler. 12. "Oirot - Messenger of the White Burkhan" – belief of Altai. And those which are in the museum – 13. Mother of the World. 14. "Signs of Christ". 15. "Lao-tzu". 16. "Tsong-Kha-Pa". 17. "Padma Sambhava". 18. "Chalice of Christ". 19. "Ancient Serpent".
These paintings were a testimony to the unity of religious striving and the common roots of man's faith.
Real landscapes, historical and genre scenes are connected together with mythological themes in the Roerich art. Myths were like memory about the past which was transformed by people into dream of the better future for Roerich.
“Long ago I expressed my comprehension of life. Great cultural values go through all storms of earthly shocks triumphantly… And if we affirm: Love, Beauty, Action we know that we utter a formula of international language. This formula which belongs now to the museum and stage should appear every day. A sigh of Beauty will open the holy gates. We go happily under the sign of Beauty. We win with Beauty. We pray with Beauty. We are united by Beauty… And we feel the way of truth and we meet the future with smile”.
Meanwhile the herbariums which were received from Urusvati Institute in botanical gardens of America contained many varieties of drought-stable plants, which were gathered in the Central Asia. The USA Department of Agriculture showed an interest in them and offered Nicholas Roerich to organize a special expedition for seeds gathering, such plants protect fertile layers of soil. Roerich accepted the offer and in 1934 he left for the USA.
As it was intended the expedition headed by Roerich started its journey in Manchuria in the direction of Dalay-Nor Lake. Steppe Braga and western plateau of Hingham range were explored and drought-stable varieties of feather grass and cereals were found.
In March, 1935 the expedition group approached to the Gobi frontiers. During the several months more than 300 varieties of valuable for struggle against soil erosion plants were studied, many herbs were gathered, more than 2000 packs were sent in America.
On April 15 in the Gobi Desert the Banner of Peace was raised under the expedition camp. In this time in Washington D. C. the Roerich Pact was signed after the ordinary conference by the President Franklin Roosevelt and representatives of South America.
Roerich ended the expedition and arrived in Shanghai in September 21, 1935.
Shortly after it Nicholas and Yuri Roerich was in Kulu where they learnt about the events which had happened in New York. It turned out that Horsh who was engaged in money matters of Roerich museum decided to capture the skyscraper with all museum values after conflicts with managers. Such conflicts were connected with incomes.
As soon as the expedition removed in the desert regions of the North China, Horsh began to appropriate the skyscraper; he had thought the things over beforehand. As a result Horsh moved all the Roerich pictures (there were more than 1000) out in a night and changed all the locks. Simultaneously, all archives were annihilated and among these papers was a document which certified the decision made by museum founders to hand over the museum to the state.
Removed managers instituted proceedings against Horsh in New York but there were no results…
Thoughts about Motherland
In 1926 some people who met Roerich in Moscow asked him:
Nicholas Konstantinovich, have you decided to come back in Russia forever?
The artist asked:
But I didn’t move abroad. I traveled and I think about new trips. And I never thought of Leavin Russia forever.
According to the calculations Roerich made his life was assigned: forty two years – Russia, eleven years – India, Finland – two years, America – three years, China – two years, Tibet – one and a half, Mongolia – one year, France – one year, England – one and a quarter, Swiss - a half of the year, Switzerland – a half of the year, Italy – a quarter of the year. He also visited Germany, Holland, Belgium, Egypt, Japan, Hong-Kong, Ceylon, and the Philippines.
Roerich never left India after the expedition of 1934-1935. He was very popular there. A large number of people visited exhibitions of his canvas in different Indian cities. In Indian magazines and newspapers Roerich’s publications and information about him appeared. Besides the word “Guru” or even “Gurudev” (the Great teacher) was added to his mane. Roerich deserved respect of Indian people because he believed in future for India, supported the leaders of liberation movement, wrote articles in the press and acquainted readers with Indian Philosophy and Science.
Among all the countries Roerich dealt with he singled out Baltic States: “In Riga should be not only the Society but a Museum also. For this purpose a group of my pictures will be sent from New York 10-20 works at first”. By the end of the thirties there were about 40 canvas created by Roerich. "Brahmaputra" (1932), "Tibetan Stronghold" (1932), "Kuluta" (1937), "Chapel of St. Sergius" (1936), Himalayan and Mongolian landscapes were among them.
In the years 1936-1947 Nicholas Roerich wrote about 750 features for autobiography “My Life. Diary Leaves". But the main part of this book contained meditations about science and art tasks and about current social and political events.
In distant Himalayas Roerich worked tirelessly year after year and constantly thought about Russia. He also had a dream to continue his activity there.
In the years immediately preceding World War I, Roerich sensed an impending cataclysm, the artist painted "The Bogatyrs are Awakened" and "Alexander Nevsky". The war broke out and the picture "Campaign of Igor" appeared. In the years of war, Roerich often used national and heroic symbols and images. He created "Yaroslav", "Mstislav the Bold", "Combat Between Mstislav and Rededia", "Partisans"; "Nastasya Mikulichna", "Svyatogor", " Boris and Gleb", "Alexander Nevsky" repeated. in his depiction of both historical and natural themes, symbolism and the use of allegory had become essential ingredients in his work. All the works of the last period in his art could be called a heroic cycle, an anthem of national feat.
Immediately after the beginning of military actions in Russia Yuri and Svetoslav Roerich addressed to the Soviet Embassy in Great Britain with a request to take them on the strength of the Red Army three times.
Several exhibitions of Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich’s pictures were held in India. Some of the works were sold. The main part of the money gathered was sent to Red Cross and to the Red Army. When Hitler troops occupied vast territory of the Soviet Union, Roerich addressed to his collaborators with a request to serve to the mutual understanding affair of people of two powerful states – Russia and he USA. In 1942 the leaders of Roerich Museum initiated the American-Russian Cultural Association (ARCA), which from the very beginning establish relations with VCKC and Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C.
As soon as salvos stopped roaring Roerich started to promote the Pact. On December, 1945 Committee of Pact and Banner of Peace in New York continued its work. During the year 1946 the previous contacts were resumed, new members also were attracted. Next year the brochure was published it presented activity of Committee. In this year the Indian conference of cultural unity decided to support the Pact.
When the war ended the artist started to make arrangements for his departure in the Soviet Union.
In July, 1947 an acute attack of chronic disease led to the surgical operation and confinement to bed was prescribed to Roerich. In October Roerich was already on foot. Preparations for departure in Russia were in full swing. More than 400 canvas collected by the artist were pact under Roerich command in boxes for sending them in Bombay, then in the USSR by sea.
During the fuss the doctor’s warnings about dangerous exhaust were forgotten. The work "Command of the Teacher" was unfinished. The artist passed away on December 13, 1947.
After two days in front of Roerich house a funeral pyre blazed up. Later on this place near a steep slope facing imposing Himalayan peaks a big stone from the snow rock was put. And the inscription was carved out of the stone:
“The body of Maharish Nicholas Roerich, a friend of India, was cremated on this place on mahgar 30, 2004 Vikram era, on December 15, 1947. OM RAM”.
In spring 1958 n Kuzneckii Bridge in Moscow the “Exhibition of pictures by Academician of painting”. Every day thousands of visitors passed through the halls. The exhibition was shown in Leningrad, Kiev, Tbilisi and Riga.
Keeping his father’s will Yuri Roerich presented to the state 418 works of the artist. Sixty of them were received by Novosibirsk Gallery and all the rest by The State Russian Museum in Leningrad.
Many-side activity of Nicholas Roerich left a noticeable sign in the history of culture. Djavaharal Neru addressed the public during the posthumous exhibition and said: “When I think about Nicholas Roerich, I am admired by the wide scope and richness of his activity and art genius. A great artist, a great scientist and writer, archaeologist and traveler, he presented many different aspects of human aspirations. The number of pictures is impressing – thousands of canvas and each of them is a masterpiece”.
Memory about Roerich lives not only in his pictures. The Pact of protection of cultural values created by him continued to attract supporters even after the Roerich’s death. In 1948 the Pact was approved by the Indian government and in 1950 the New York Committee conveyed the main articles of Pact and all documents about its history to the general director of UNESCO Torez Bode. The special commission of UNESCO began to work out a status which was offered to the conference on education, science and culture questions. This conference was called in spring of 1954 in Hague. This conference adopted the International Convention about Protection of Cultural Treasures in Time of Armed Attacks.
Representatives from 37 countries signed the Hague Convention. So the Roerich’s idea lived him through and became an international law.
Nicholas Roerich was a figure of international scale. And notwithstanding the fact that it was very difficult to sort out the problems in the years of was he managed to put into life the ideas about cooperation between the nations. He tried to combine Russian, West European and Oriental Philosophy but always remained Russian. His ideals which were formed in his motherland and which he carried through all his life prove it. A famous Spanish artist Ignasio Suloaga wrote about hi: “A great artist! His art is an evidence of a power which Russia has and it spreads all over the world. I can’t express it by any words but it is clear”.
Roerich thinking about the future constantly dreamed and dared. Dare in art, in science, in the field of society. All his life, according to his wife, was a feat “in all its harsh beauty”, a feat of “complete renunciation” in the name of human well-being.
A feat “in all its harsh beauty” was lives of other members of his family Helena Roerich (1879-1955), Yuri Roerich (1902-1960), Svetaslav Roerich (1904-1993). They made a united creative team and each of them made his contribution to the treasury of culture and science.
Roerich Precept was World Through the Culture. And now it becomes more and more popular. It unites people of good nature, people, who are ready to peace and collaboration on our planet.
The Main Dates of Life and Activity of Nicholas Roerich
Roerich was born on September 27 (October 9) in St. Petersburg.
Entered the gymnasium of K. I. Mai in St. Petersburg.
Entered the Academy of Arts and a faculty of law of St. Petersburg University.
The title of artist has been conferred upon him for his picture “Courier/ runner”.
Ended the university. He worked as an associate editor of the magazine “Art and Art Industry”.
Supplements his art education in Paris.
Marriage with Helena Shaposhnikova. He became a secretary of the Arts Encouragement Society.
Exhibitions in St Petersburg, Moscow and abroad.
The director of the school at the Arts Encouragement Society. He has been elected a Member of Paris Autumn Saloon.
The academician of the Russian Academy of Arts.
The chairman of the renewed “World of the Art”.
Work with Stravinsky on The Rite of Spring.
Moved to Karelia with the family because of the state of health.
Visited Petrograd in connection with reorganization of the school at the Arts Encouragement Society.
Leaved Finland for London. Meeting with R. Tagor.
Exhibitions and educative activity in the USA.
In May leaved New York and went to India through Europe.
Expeditions in Sikkim and Bhutan.
A large expedition in the Central Africa with calling in Moscow, Altai and Buryat ASSR in 1926.
Visited Europe and America. Publication of the Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments Protection Treaty Draft by Roerich.
Reaserch in Urusvati Institute.
A large expedition in Mongolia and China. Since 1936 lived in India uninterruptedly.
Exhibitions and sale of pictures in favor of the Red Army. Patriotic addresses in print. The honorable president of the American-Russian Cultural Association.
Assembling to the Motherland. Correspondence with Soviet artists.
Passed away on December 13.
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Agni Publishing House (Samara, Russia), Nicholas Roerich Museum (New York) and Fine Arts Academy Gallery (Moscow, Russia) have published a unique album, dedicated to the pictorial heritage of Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947).
Will be available on the second volume of a unique publication dedicated to the works of Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947).
The album was released by the publishing house "Agni" (Samara), with active cooperation of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, as well as the Moscow Gallery Fine Arts Academy and the St. Petersburg State Museum and Institute of the Roerich Family.