Born to an upper middle class Russian family, Roerich displayed an early talent for drawing. Although he wanted to pursue a career as an artist his father, a lawyer and notary did not consider it to be a fit vocation for a responsible member of society. A compromise was reached and in 1893 Nicholas enrolled simultaneously in the Academy of Art and at St. Petersburg University.
The late 1890's saw a blossoming in Russian arts, particularly in St. Petersburg, where the avant-garde was forming groups and alliances, led by the young Sergei Diaghilev, who was a year or two ahead of Roerich at law school, and was one of the first to appreciate his talents as a painter. Roerich designed Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and it was this success that established him as an exceptionally individual artist.
After leaving university, Roerich met, and later married, Helena, daughter of the architect Shaposhnikov and niece of the composer Mussorgsky. A talented pianist and author of many books, including The Foundations of Buddhism, Helena's collected Letters in two volumes, reveal the wisdom, spiritual insight and simple advice she shared with her many correspondents. Roerich and Helena became firm believers in Theosophy, which holds that spiritual masters of long ago can reappear in dreams, and even be reincarnated, to bring peace to the world.
This fervent desire for world peace led Roerich on a 16,000-mile expedition through Central Asia, to Kullu in the Himalayas, where, in 1928, he founded a research station and developed a philosophy in which art would unite humanity. He became involved in politics and launched the Roerich Peace Pact, which called for the worldwide protection of monuments and cultural treasures during war and peace. In 1929, Nicholas Roerich was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and finally, in 1935, the pact was signed in the presence of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, 'The pact possesses a spiritual significance far greater than the text itself.' The pact is still in force today. Nicholas Roerich died in Kullu on 13 December 1947. His body was cremated and the ashes buried on a slope facing the mountains he loved and portrayed in many of his paintings.
We are grateful to Daniel Entin, director of the Roerich Museum in New York and Gvido Trepsa for providing information on this lot.