Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more 'Nowadays, it is thought important to demand freedom for people, but it is equally important to grant freedom to things. Things must be allowed their own lives, their own freedom to move and exist under whatever new conditions life leads them to, free to go wherever they are most wanted and needed. This is particularly important for artistic and scientific creations. It is ridiculous to impose fees and erect barriers and restrictions when the human spirit has created something special. Let things carry their flame to new places, wherever chance takes them. Let them be free! Let them live their own lives, wherever destiny takes them.' These words are not mine, they were written by Nicholas Roerich after he had come to America after the Russian Revolution to establish a new life and to found new institutions. He had with him several hundred paintings and established a museum for them in New York. At that time, New York was full of Russian émigrés who had fled the chaos in their own country and settled in this young world that was so strange to them. Many of them had little interest in America, and wanted only to see Russia returned to its old state so that they could return in triumph. Of course, that was not to be, but they questioned Roerich’s rapid embrace of this new country and wanted to know why he was so intent on installing all his new, great works here. He answered their questions and challenges with an article called 'The Freedom of Things'. Nicholas Roerich was immediately enchanted by the insistent creative energy of America, the spirit that urged each person to carve out a life to his own measurements. 'If I love Russia, why should I not love America too?' he said to all those critics who wanted to know why he was investing so much time and effort here. And it was here that he found the means to fulfill some of his most urgent dreams, one of which was to create a school that would teach all the arts under one roof, together with a museum to hold all his paintings. Roerich insisted that the creative people in any country had a responsibility to protect their culture and their nation, in the furtherance of world peace. And to do that, it was important for creative people in all the various disciplines of creative endeavor to unite. Thus the need for the arts to be studied and practiced all 'under one roof'. In that spirit, every museum has an educational mission, and indeed, museums are chartered by the educational departments of their state governments. For us at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, with a mission to familiarize the public with the life, the aims, and the art of Nicholas Roerich, it is necessary for our collection to be as broad and complete as possible. Visitors to the museum must be presented with the best and fullest scope of the artist’s output. To this end, the collection of the museum must be continually evaluated, with areas that are overrepresented culled so that other areas can be strengthened. And it is in that spirit, in order to enrich and build as representative a collection as is possible, that we are doing what we have never done before: offering for sale two wonderful paintings, each quite different from the other, to acquire works that are of equal importance in the Roerich oeuvre, but of a period insufficiently represented in our collection. It is painful to see well-loved paintings go out the front door of the museum, maybe not to be seen again. But these paintings have their own lives to live, their own freedom to go where they are wanted. Daniel Entin, Director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York PROPERTY FROM THE NICHOLAS ROERICH MUSEUM, NEW YORK
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

'White and heavenly', from the series 'His Country'

Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)
'White and heavenly', from the series 'His Country'
signed with artist's monogram (lower right); numbered '472' (on the stretcher)
tempera on canvas
35 x 46 in. (89 x 117 cm.)
Painted in 1924
Roerich Museum collection, New York, 1924-1935.
Louis and Nettie Horch, New York, 1935-1951.
Baltzar Bolling (1890-1969), 1951-1973.
Nicholas Roerich Museum collection, New York, 1973-2015.
Nicholas Roerich Museum Archive, Nicholas Roerich, List of Paintings 1917-1924. MS, listed no. 12.
F. Grant et al. Roerich, Himalaya, A Monograph, New York, 1926, listed p. 199, illustrated p. 183.
Roerich Museum Catalogue, Eighth Edition, New York, 1930, listed p. 21, no. 472.
A. Yaremenko. Nicholai Konstantinovich Roerich: His Life and Creations During the Past Forty Years. New York, 1931, listed p. 38, illustrated no. 86.
New York, Roerich Museum, 1924-1935.
New York, Nicholas Roerich Museum, 1973-2015.
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Aleksandra Babenko
Aleksandra Babenko

Lot Essay

If one would attempt to divide Nicholas Roerich’s long artistic career in just two main periods, the year 1924 would mark a distinct turning point. Roerich came to India at the end of 1923 and spent the first nine months of the next year living in Darjeeling. He traveled throughout the region, painting his vision of how spiritual forces shaped the material world: Himalayan landscapes, mountains, and monasteries. He expressed his fascination with 'The roof of the World' (the Himalaya) by developing a new style of painting, marked by richness of colour, forcefulness of line, and freshness of perspective. His eighty canvases from this period, neatly organized into four series — His Country, Sikkim, Banners of the East (The Birth of Mysteries) and Himalayan — all bear the signs of that particular vigour and spontaneity which comes with leaving behind old shores and discovering new inspiration. For Roerich, India became much more than another travel destination. It was where he embarked on a new chapter in his life, recalibrating his search for mission and identity and continuing to work towards spiritual fulfillment. His creative capabilities expanded accordingly, and all that he painted from then on is distinguishable clearly from his work before 1924. Canvasses from the first year of this new stage in his life and career, of which the present work is an outstanding example, illustrate such passion and radiance that if we had to define Roerich with only a painting or two, it would almost certainly have to come from 1924.

The title of the series, His Country, which includes this painting, carries a special meaning. Coming to India was Roerich’s life-long dream, born out of an interest in the great Indian philosophical traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism. But the strongest driving force behind his journey was his belief in the Mahatmas, a brotherhood of highly evolved spiritual masters residing in the Himalayas, among other places. In his book Heart of Asia he quotes a friendly lama: 'Formerly even in Sikkim we had several Ashrams of the Mahatmas. These wise Mahatmas of the Himalayas direct our lives through unceasing work and study. They master the highest powers. As ordinary people, they appear in various places, here, beyond the ocean and throughout Asia.' Roerich united the first paintings he completed in Darjeeling in a series called His Country, meaning the country of the Mahatmas. In Roerich’s own words about His Country: 'In Sikhim, itself, was one of the Ashrams of the Mahatmas. To Sikhim, Mahatmas came on mountain horses. Their physical presence communicates a solemn importance to these parts. Of course now the Ashram has been transferred from Sikhim. Of course now the Mahatmas have left Sikhim. But they were here, and therefore the silver peaks of the chain glimmer still more beautifully.'

His Country consists of twelve works, most of which interpret the Himalayan landscape. The titles of the paintings are quite evocative: Burning of Darkness, Pearl of Searching, Treasure of the World, Book of Wisdom. The present work, White and Heavenly is distinct from the others. Unlike other paintings in the series, and much of his later works from the period, White and Heavenly depicts the snow-capped peaks and clouds from a high vantage point, higher than he would have been able to reach with his physical body. Roerich loved to remark that in the mountains you can discern clearly 'the two worlds' — the higher being the one of aspiration towards beauty, harmony and perfection. Here, he gives us a glimpse of that world, devoid of the narratives and figures that sometimes fill his other work, and depicts light and texture with brushwork that verges on abstraction. He focuses solely on the point where the earth and heavens meet, mountaintops mingling with clouds, as a place of transition that no doubt had particular significance for him in his own spiritual journey.

Roerich brought this painting to New York in October of 1924 and it stayed in the permanent exhibition of the Roerich Museum until 1935. Then it passed on to Louis Horch (1888-1979), after the latter claimed the collection of the Roerich Museum as his property. In 1951 nine of the paintings from the series were bought by the well-known Roerich collector Baltzar Bolling (1890-1969). Roerich’s wife Helena wrote to Bolling in 1949: '… I’ll be happy to see the His Country series in your possession. But, if possible, I would like to ask you the following favor: if the series is to be sold some day, let my sons be offered it first.' Bolling willed White and Heavenly to the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, where it has been exhibited since 1973. At present, the paintings in the His Country series are distributed evenly between two museums — the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, with seven canvasses, and the Museum named after N. K. Rerikh in Moscow, with five. The present lot is a unique opportunity for a savvy collector to obtain a part of Roerich’s work from the series that will likely never be offered on the market again in the future.

We would like to thank Gvido Trepša, Curator at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York for his assistance in cataloguing the present work and providing this catalogue note.

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