On Nicholas Roerich

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 22 August 2004

NICHOLAS ROERICH (1894-1947) was a Russian born painter and scholar who contributed vastly to the arts and enjoyed an exalted reputation in the international art scene. He is one of those artists who not only voiced his opinion but also influenced change in the condition and outlook towards art.

Nicholas Roerich is well known in India due to his interest in India’s culture and philosophy. After having traveled widely all over the world with his partner Elena and conducting many expeditions across the length of ancient civilizations, he made India his home during the last years of his life.

The paintings he has made of the Himalayas are widely known and acclaimed. His son, Sveltoslav Roerich and daughter-in-law Devika Rani, the Indian movie star also settled in Bangalore in an estate called Tatguni. Sveltoslav, also a painter, is the founder of the art academy, ChitrakalaParishat in Bangalore.

Nicholas Roerich is also known for the Roerich Pact which aims at the protection of cultural treasures during times of both war and peace. He designed a flag, The Banner of Peace, to be flown over certain monuments and institutions, showing that the monument is neutral and not to be affected. As a teacher, spokesman for the arts and the Secretary of the School of the Society for the Encouragement of Art in St Petersburg, Roerich instituted a revolutionary system of training in art: to teach all the arts, from  painting, music, singing, dance, theatre and the so-called industrial arts, such as ceramics, painting on porcelain, pottery, and mechanical drawing under one roof. He also gave his faculty a free rein to design their own curriculum.

During his lifetime, Roerich made some 7000 paintings and published 30 books, along with costume and set designs for many Russian operas and plays, working with the likes of great composers like Igor Stravinsky.During his career as a theatre designer, he also created designs for most of Wagner’s operas.

Most of his paintings are picturesque and sweeping landscapes. He also made works that illustrate scenes and incidents from history.His career as a painter started at the university where he studied both art and the law. One painting that he made as a student called ‘The messenger to the master’s command’ was appreciated by both his teachers and contemporaries. It got him recognition among the artists in Russia.

His pictures speak mostly of spiritual journeys while some are of contemplative men in nature. His ‘Banners of the East’ series of nineteen paintings, depict men like Muhammad, Lao Tse, Jesus, Moses,Confucius, and Buddha, and the Indian and Christian saints and sages. They are very striking because of his use of colour, a trait he shares with contemporaries like Gauguin, but in terms of style they are largely stagnant. Unlike his contemporaries (the impressionists like Van Gogh who chose mundane and everyday subjects) he frequently alludes to historical, mythological and spiritual, Slavic and old Russian traditions. His work constantly brings up the inward and spiritual quest, with images of travellers to holy and sacred destinations, images of the mother goddesses and hermits.

The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York is solely dedicated to showcasing his work and contribution. In the Roerich gallery at Chitrakala Parishat is a collection of paintings that he made of the Himalayas. His huge collection of paintings are spread out all over the world in private collections and museums.

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4 thoughts on “On Nicholas Roerich

  1. Nice write..only that a couple of other details of Roerich’s life were missing..watch a documentary titled ‘Eye of the Phoenix’, you’ll get more data.

  2. I did have interest albeit more towards the “conspiracy theories” surrounding him and Madame Blavatsky 🙂

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