Category:Art & Esotericism

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Roerich's far quest for Beauty

Republished from “The Literary Digest” for September 1, 1928

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The greatest tribute of our time to an individual living artist, we are told, is the proposed erection of a new home for the Roerich Museum in New York City, a $2,000,000 studio apartment building on Riverside Drive, to house the growing treasures created or collected by Nicholas Roe­rich, who, to quote a re­cent criticism, "has been termed, quite justly, the foremost living Russian painter." Five whole floors out of the twenty-four in this building, it is stated, are to be devoted to the works of this re­markable man, who, be­sides being a painter, ex­plorer, Orientalist, and admirer of Buddhism, is himself both a mystic and something of a mystery.

Since his arrival in the United States , eight years ago, Professor Roerich has won many influential friends in the American art world, who have con­tributed liberally both to his museum and to the Roerich American Expedi­tion, which has occupied him during the last four years, and from which great things are expected. Throughout those years Professor Roerich has buried himself and his expedition in the mountain fastnesses of Mongolia and Tibet , meeting strange adventures and painting hundreds of great canvases in which he has recorded his impressions of the Himalayas and the people who inhabit their valleys. The Roerich Museum , one of the institutions sponsoring the expedition, recently received a dis­patch telling how the travelers had been forcibly detained in a Tibetan mountain pass, 15,000 feet high, in light summer tents, with insufficient food and fodder, causing the death of five native members of the expedition and ninety caravan animals. But after five months' delay, we are told, the artist-explorer is again free to pursue his great adventure.

Professor Roerich has already sent back 250 of his Tibetan paintings to the museum in New York , which contains 750 of his works, besides a vast amount of artistic and historical material that he has collected. Two years ago, when the first consignment of these Himalayan pictures arrived, his admirers brought out a monograph about them, telling incidentally of documents he had found in old Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, which, he believed, furnished proof that Jesus had spent ten years studying in that part of Asia prior to His preaching in Palestine.

This long quest for beauty in the heart of Asia, we are re­minded, is the crowning achievement of labors that had made Nicholas Roerich famous in all the capitals of Europe before he came to America . For at the age of fifty-four years he has produced more than 3,000 paintings, of which 2,500 are in private collections and public galleries in fourteen countries of the Old World . How he came to America and fell in love with this land of energy and opportunity is related by Louis L. Horch , president and backer of the Roerich Museum , who said recently to a New York Times interviewer:

"Twenty-five years ago, when Roerich's first exhibits were shown in Russia , his young spirit was felt. Who, at that time, thought of America as an art center? Only lately has the world given us credit for appreciation. Then Roerich exhibited in London , and he was invited by the Chicago Art Institute to send his work out there some years ago.

"Remember one thing: Roerich was not an emigre , fleeing from the Russian revolution. He left Russia in 1915 or 1916, before the revolution. And when he put up his work at the Kin-gore Galleries in New York it was a sensation. Twenty-seven other museums received it; it was seen in all the important art centers of this country.

"Roerich lived in America four years before, in 1924, he went off to Tibet for exploration. He always maintained a home here. I think he can be called, in the fullest sense, an American. His expedition was financed by Americans, too. He feels that a nation so young and strong is a good place for the spirit of art to spread quickest. So he founded the Master Institute of United Arts, the only school where all arts are together under one roof. You know the early Italians did just that—you can see it because Michelangelo's paintings look like sculpture: one art showing the influence of another. Here we have music, everything."

Tho he was born in Petrograd, in 1874, not far from the Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was later to study, Nicholas Roerich's boyhood was passed at Isawara , the family country place near Gatchina , and it was there that, as a youth of twenty-two, he painted his first picture, "The Messenger," in which critics have since seen "the prelude and epitome of his entire achievement." His earliest memories, we are told by the critic, Christian Brinton, go back to his father, a distinguished lawyer, and to his father's great estate of ten thousand acres, among whose forests and lakes he loved to roam, glorying in the solitude of nature. But from the first, also, he was a tireless student. A university course, five years of patient labor on a series of Russian pictures, all eagerly sought by collectors, and further years of travel and study abroad, were followed by his appointment in 1898 to a professorship in the Imperial Archeological Institute at Petrograd, where he was commissioned to undertake important excavations in the provinces of Pskov, Novgorod and Tver . These researches in the most picturesque corners of Old Russia , we are told, gave him a taste for the colorful past and started him on a quest which he is still pursuing in the far Himalayas . To quote Mr. Brinton again:

"Two notable ex­hibitions, one at the Imperial Academy of Art, the other in con­junction with his col­leagues at Moscow , served to stamp Nich­olas Roerich in the mind of the public as a painter of individ­uality and power. From every point of view both displays proved successful, it being interesting to recall in this connec­tion that the Czar per­sonally acquired for the imperial palace of Tsarskoe-Selo the dra­matic and colorful ‘Strangers from Odes­sa,' while important purchases were also made for the Alexander III Museum of Petrograd and the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow. Indulging his penchant for deco­rative expression, Roerich also began at this period the first of his numerous mural paintings, which consisted of two large hunting scenes for the palace of the Grand Duchess Olga.

'' During the ensuing decade the art of Nicholas Roerich submitted to certain striking changes both of manner and of matter. It was a fruitful epoch for the painter-archeologist. While remaining typically Russian in spirit, his artistic sympathies turned to the East as well as to the West. He found a measure of pure inspira­tion in the pure color spaces and definite lineal patterns of the Oriental masters, and he likewise assimilated not a little of that Gothic mysticism which attains characteristic expression in the poetic dramas of Maurice Maeterlinck."


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This article comes from Esotericism Readings

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