Nicholas Roerich

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Biographical Information

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich (1874 – 1947) wiki "was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 9, 1874, the first-born son of lawyer and notary, Konstantin Roerich and his wife Maria. He was raised in the comfortable environment of an upper middle-class Russian family with its advantages of contact with the writers, artists, and scientists who often came to visit the Roerichs...

"In 1895 Roerich met the prominent writer, critic, and historian, Vladimir Stasov. Through him he was introduced to many of the composers and artists of the time — Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, and the basso Fyodor Chaliapin.... One of Diaghilev's first achievements was the founding, with Princess Maria Tenisheva and others, of the magazine The World of Art. This magazine enjoyed a relatively short life but had an important influence in Russian art circles...

"After finishing his university thesis, Roerich planned to set off for a year in Europe to visit the museums, exhibitions, studios, and salons of Paris and Berlin. Just before leaving he met Helena, daughter of the architect Shaposhnikov and niece of the composer Mussorgsky. There seems to have been an immediate mutual attraction, and they were soon engaged to be married. On his return from Europe their marriage took place.

"Helena Roerich was an unusually gifted woman, a talented pianist, and author of many books, including The Foundations of Buddhism and a Russian translation of Helena Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. Her collected Letters, in two volumes, are an example of the wisdom, spiritual insight, and simple advice she shared with a multitude of correspondents — friends, foes, and co-workers alike. Later, in New York, Nicholas and Helena Roerich founded the Agni Yoga Society, which espoused a living ethic encompassing and synthesizing the philosophies and religious teachings of all ages...

"In 1906, in the first of many entrepreneurial efforts that were to bring Russian art and music to the attention of Europeans, Sergei Diaghilev arranged an exhibition of Russian paintings in Paris. These included sixteen works by Nicholas Roerich. The next year, Diaghilev introduced Fyodor Chaliapin to Paris audiences, along with the music of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Glazunov, Stravinsky, and others. In 1909 he presented Chaliapin in Rimsky-Korsakov's Ivan the Terrible, with costumes and sets designed by Roerich. In the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor, also designed by Roerich, and in other ballets, Diaghilev introduced a corps of Russian dancers that later became famous as the Ballets Russes, which included Pavlova, Fokine, and Nijinsky. Roerich's designs furthered his reputation for the telling depiction of ancient cultures and their practices.

"Diaghilev pioneered an art form that involved the collaboration of the designer as “auteur.” Thus Alexandre Benois influenced the creation of the ballet Petrouchka, and Nicholas Roerich was the prime mover and, with Igor Stravinsky, the co-creator of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, or, The Rite of Spring.

"At first entitled The Great Sacrifice: a Tableau of Pagan Russia, the motif for the ballet grew out of Roerich's absorption with antiquity and, as he wrote in a letter to Diaghilev, “the beautiful cosmogony of earth and sky.” In the ballet Roerich sought to express the primitive rites of ancient man as he welcomed spring, the life-giver, and made sacrifice to Yarilo, the Sun God. It was a story unlike that of any ballet before it. Stravinsky's score and Nijinsky's choreography were equally unexpected, and provoked controversy that was to continue for many years....

"By 1917 the revolution was raging in Russia and returning there would have been dangerous. The family began making plans to visit India, whose magnetic appeal had been felt increasingly during these years. This became a possibility in 1918 when Roerich was invited by a Swedish entrepreneur to exhibit his paintings in Stockholm. From there the family proceeded to London, where Sir Thomas Beecham had invited Roerich to design a new production of Prince Igor for the Covent Garden Opera.

"Meanwhile, an invitation to come to America was extended by the Chicago Art Institute. It was accepted, and the tour opened successfully at the Kingore Gallery in New York in 1920. In addition to exhibiting over 400 paintings there and in many cities throughout the United States, Roerich designed the scenery and costumes for productions of The Snow Maiden, and Tristan and Isolde for the Chicago Opera Company. During his travels in America, Roerich painted a series in New Mexico, and the Ocean Series in Monhegan, Maine, where the family spent a summer. He responded to the spirit of enterprise he found in America and frequently wrote about the positive influence its developing technology would have on the world. Seeds were planted and the lives of individuals influenced by Roerich's magnetism and sense of mission...

"The Roerichs landed in Bombay in December, 1923, and began a tour of cultural centers and historic sites, meeting Indian scientists, scholars, artists, and writers along the way. By the end of December they were already in Sikkim on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and it is clear by the speed with which they reached the mountains that the Himalayas were where their interest lay..." [1]



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  1. Nicholas Roerich Museum Nicholas Roerich, organizational web page, accessed May 9, 2012.