• Russian Art auction at Christies

    Sale 7772

    Russian Art

    1 - 2 December 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 427

    Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

    Legend, from the series Messiah

    Price Realised  


    Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)
    Legend, from the series Messiah
    mixed media on canvas
    28¾ x 81¼ in. (73 x 206.5 cm.)
    Painted in 1923

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    Born the son of a well-known notary who had hopes his boy would opt for a career in law, Nicholas Roerich's artistic inclination and talent were evident from a young age; the piece he produced for his graduation from the St Petersburg Academy, Messenger: Tribe Has Risen Against Tribe (1897), was purchased by Pavel Tretyakov for the astute collector's gallery in Moscow. In order to contextualize and understand Roerich's paintings however, it is insufficient to consider him simply as a painter or even as a painter, writer, scientist, explorer and philosopher. Rather, his work should be understood as a concrete manifestation of his overarching philosophy as concerns divine unity and pan-human spirituality. His fervent desire for world peace inspired him to embark on a 16,000-mile expedition with his wife Helena through Central Asia, to Kullu in the Himalayas, where, in 1928, he founded a research station and developed his philosophy centered around his core belief that art would unite humanity. This concept is captured in the credo for the Master Institute of United Arts which Roerich founded in New York in November 1921:

    'Art will unify all humanity. Art is one - indivisible. Art has its many branches, yet all are one. Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis. Art is for all. Everyone will enjoy true art. The gates of the 'sacred source' must be opened wide for everybody and the light of art will ignite numerous hearts with a new love.'

    The premium Roerich placed on the role of art as spiritual salvation was exemplified in his proposition for a global agreement intended to ensure that artifacts of cultural significance were protected in periods of unrest. This became known as the Roerich Peace Pact and was signed with Franklin Roosevelt bearing witness in 1935.

    Evgeny Matochkin suggests that the three paintings of the Messiah series are 'the most secret and mysterious of the artist's works' (Nicholas Roerich, 2008) adding that the present work was evidently much inspired by the 'immensity of the Grand Canyon and the pure calm of the cosmos in Arizona' (ibid). In his biography of the artist Garabed Paelian writes that Roerich '...learned things ignored by other men; perceived relations between seemingly isolated phenomena, and unconsciously felt the presence of an unknown treasure' (Nicholas Roerich, 1974). The word 'treasure' figures in the title of many of his paintings including: Treasure of the Mountain, Hidden Treasure and Treasure of the Angels. The titles allude to spiritual rather than physical treasure which lies buried but can become accessible to those willing to undergo the necessary contemplation. The figure in Legend, engrossed in script, is pursuing knowledge and will subsequently receive spiritual riches. The presence of the settlement in the background confirms that this notion is worldly; the treasures are not reserved for spiritual leaders but are available to man en masse.

    We are grateful to Gvido Trepsa and The Roerich Museum, New York, for their assistance with the cataloguing of the present lot.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York, 1923-1935.
    Collection of Louis and Nettie Horch, New York, 1935-1971.
    Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1971.
    ACA Galleries, New York.

    Pre-Lot Text



    List of Nicholas Roerich Paintings, 1917-1924, Nicholas Roerich Museum Archive, New York, no. 8.
    Roerich, New York, Corona Mundi, 1924, pl. 60.
    F. Grant et al, Roerich, Himalaya, New York, 1926, p. 199, illustrated p. 15.
    Roerich Museum Catalogue, New York, 1930, p. 19, no. 314.
    L. V. Korotkina, Nikolai Konstantinovich Rerikh, St Petersburg, 2001, p. 281, pl. 321.
    D. N. Popov. 'Native Americans in the life and work of N. K. Roerich', Aryavarta Journal, 2004, p. 5-6.
    Y. Matochkin, Nicholas Roerich: In two volumes, Zurich, 2008, pl. 321.