This magnificent landscape by Nicholas Roerich is one of 27 works from the Sanctuaries and Citadels series, created in August and September of 1925 while the artist was travelling with his family and companions in the Ladakh region of northern India. During this expedition he and his party saw many Buddhist monasteries as well as ruins of ancient palaces. Although the pictures depict actual places, Roerich intentionally did not give them individual titles, having said, 'One does not care to give the local image any ethnographical or geographical character. Let them go as symbols, 'Sanctuaries and Citadels.' Let them by their general tone of heroism and attainment, themselves speak for this country.' (quoted in F. Grant et. al., Roerich. Himalaya., New York, 1926, p. 169). For Roerich the portrayal of these landscapes was as much deep meditation as it was documentation of visited places. This was instilled in him by one of his earliest teachers, Arkhip Kuindzhi, who put a stress on achieving 'inwardness' in painting. This approach was further strengthened by the theosophical beliefs that would define Roerich's life and career. Having been interested in Eastern spiritualism for some time, Nicholas and Helena Roerich realised their plans to travel to India in 1923. Once there, they embarked on an exploratory journey of Central Asia, studying and documenting the languages and philosophies of the various cultures they encountered. Nicholas Roerich wrote about his observations and experiences in his book Heart of Asia, but the most vivid account of his journey is found in the paintings created during this time. Bathed in a supernatural blue light, this carefully rendered mountainous landscape crowned with ancient ruins exemplifies Roerich's profound admiration of the Ladakh region and the sacredness it held for him. Roerich illustrates a scene that is at once realistic and evocative of the spiritual mysteries that exist within it. For Roerich, the voyage to India was a search for enlightenment; it was the path to Shambhala, which represented an era of peace, beauty and truth. The grandeur of the Himalayas represented the summit of that quest; 'All teachers journeyed to the mountains. The highest knowledge, the most inspired songs, the most superb sounds and colours are created on the mountains. On the highest mountains there is Supreme. The high mountains stand as witnesses of the great reality. The spirit of prehistoric man already enjoyed the greatness of the mountains.' (quoted in J. Decter, Nicholas Roerich: The Life and Art of a Russian Master, Vermont, 1989, p. 141). While on the Central Asian expedition, in 1926 Nicholas Roerich sent this painting along with 24 others from the series to New York to be installed in the Helena Roerich wing of the newly founded Roerich Museum. This allowed followers of Roerich's teachings to have a direct connection to the expedition, and presented them with his visionary representations of lands previously unknown to most.
We would like to thank Gvido Trepsa, Senior Researcher at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York for his assistance in cataloguing the present work.