I commend the National Gallery of Modern Art for the exhibition ‘Nicholas Roerich: An Eternal Quest’. It is part of the endeavour of the Ministry of Culture to present the work of the great master, Nicholas Roerich, from the collection of the International Centre of the Roerich’s in Moscow and from various other collections from across India.
Roerich’s world view was unique, for it was based upon the knowledge of the fundamental laws of existence. In his own words, “Where there is culture, there is peace”. As he was convinced of the transforming power of culture, Nicholas Roerich devoted himself to artistic and educational activities with rare vigour. The “Roerich Pact” and the “Banner of Peace” were revolutionary steps taken with the intention of providing for the protection of cultural expressions of all humanity.
Nicholas Roerich’s life’s work comprises around seven thousand paintings and sketches. His artistic journey however began in Russia where he worked for 42 years and played a major role in the revival of Church art. It ended here in India, where he spent more than 20 years by which time his work was deeply rooted in the philosophy and the eternal teachings of India. He has captured the ethereal beauty of the Himalayas and spent most of his life living in the Himalayas, where he finally died.
He also created stage decorations, designs and costumes for the most acclaimed theatres and opera houses in Europe and the USA. Roerich authored a great number of books and countless number of articles and essays. I am sure that this exhibition will provide a holistic view into the world of Nicholas Roerich and prove to be a visual feast.
I must compliment H.E., Mr. Alexander Kadakin, the Russian Ambassador in India, Prof. Rajeev Lochan, Director, NGMA, and Dr. Aleena Adamkova, Executive Director/Curator, Roerich Memorial Trust, Naggar, Himachal Pradesh, for taking an active interest in organizing this exhibition on Nicholas Roerich.
At all important turning points in the history of the world, there have appeared great artists whose destiny was to illuminate life, by giving form and color to the spiritual ethos of their time. Such was the mission of Nicholas Roerich, referred to by his eminent contemporaries as the ‘Apostle of Beauty”. “Messenger of Culture”, “Mighty Warrior of the Spirit”, and the “Master of Himalayas”. Nicholas Roerich, painter, archaeologist, ethnographer, lawyer, geographer, poet, historian, philosopher, scientist, travelers, fighter for peace, defender of cultural values of all nations. An extraordinary personality, a unique individual, having an immense thirst for knowledge, and a deep appreciation of beauty in all forms, Roerich throughout his life, devoted himself to the ideal of the common good of mankind.
Roerich’s outlook of the world was unique, for it was based upon the knowledge of the fundamental laws of existence. He was convinced that by increasing the level of masses’ spiritual culture, one could transform life on earth and defeat ignorance, vulgarity exploitation and wars. In his own words “Where there is culture, there is peace”. Being convinced of the transforming power of culture, Nicholas Roerich devoted himself not only to artistic, but also to educational activities. The “Roerich Pact” and the “Banner of Peace” provided for the protection of cultural memorials of all humanity. It also played an important role in strengthening friendship and cooperation between nations. The Pact was signed in 1935 in Washington by twenty- one countries in presence of Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States.
Nicholas Roerich’s ideas have won international recognition. Albert Einstein, Romain Rolland, George Bernard Shaw, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Jagdish Chandra Bose and many other outstanding scientists and artists of various countries backed the “Roerich Pact” and his “Banner of Peace”. On the basis of the Pact, the Act of International Convention on the Protection of Cultural Values in Wartime was signed in The Hague in 1954 and then ratified by many countries.
Rabindranath Tagore, in one of his letter to Nicholas Roerich, wrote:
“I have keenly followed your most remarkable achievements in the realm of Arts and also your great humanitarian work for the welfare of the nations of which your Peace Pact idea with a special Banner for protection of cultural treasure is a singularly effective symbol. I am very glad indeed that this Pact has been accepted at the League of Nations and I feel sure that it will have far-reaching effects on the cultural harmony of nations.”
Roerich’s work as an artist is difficult to categorize. Roerich’s lifetime work comprises around 7000 paintings and sketches, which can be found in famous museums and private collections all around the world; he created stage decorations, designs and costumes for the most acclaimed theatres and opera houses in Europe and the USA; he authored a great number of books, countless articles and essays. For Roerich, painting was not an end in itself, the subjects he painted represented to him symbols, associations and a stream of thought, reflecting his world vision and spirituality, his intellectualism and his profoundly cultured and insightful mind. His paintings and poems are a creation of a uniquely personal universe. Interwoven into the artistic vision are his philosophies of life. Nicholas Roerich, like Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, served the Russian ideal of “world wideness”. In his studies of old Russian art, he would find roots common to both Slavonic and Indian culture.
For 42 years Roerich worked in Russia, for 10 years he traveled around Europe and the USA, and more than 20 of his last years, he spent in he East, especially attracted by India. Roerich had studied eastern philosophies extensively, particularly Buddhism, Hinduism, and the ancient teachings of Agni Yoga. The influence of India is seen in some of his works, even before he visited the country. Roerich was drawn to the majestic snow capped Himalayas. He felt the answer to his quest in both his art and spiritual journey was to be found in these forbidding realms. In 1928, Roerich’s shifted base to Kullu (Himachal Pradesh, India) and founded the ‘Urusvati’ Himalayan Research Institute. In Sanskrit, ‘Urusvati’ means - ‘Star of the Morning’.
Nourished and inspired by the solemn and ethereal beauty that lay in the purity of the Himalayas, he created thousands of paintings dedicated to their magnificence, to the ancient wisdom of Indian Rishis, and to various spiritual Masters. To the Indian people of his time he was known also as a talented writer of books and of countless essays which appeared in such well-known journals as The Educational Review; The Modern Review; Prabuddha Bharata; The Scholar and Vedanta Kesari, the constant theme of his articles being the human spirit on its long path of spiritual aspiration towards enlightenment and inner transformation.
Under Roerich’s leadership, countless institutions and organizations have been founded around the world, the avowed purpose of them being promotion of art and culture — their educational, cultural and art work continues to kindle the human hearts in our modern age as well.
Like no other painter, Roerich was able to grasp and depict the subtle-most shades, hues and tones of the mountains, their ethereal transparency — be it at sun rise, blazing daytime, or at the mystical dusk quietness, or during starry and translucent nights... No wonder he was proclaimed the ‘Master of the Mountains’. He sensed the subtle spirit and harmony of the mountains, their solemn, mighty essence and significance for the humanity as the symbol of the crystal-like, purest, highest aspiration towards beauty and knowledge. ‘Treasure-house of the Spirit’ — thus Roerich used to call his beloved Himalayas.
From his early years (1906) Roerich switched from oil to tempera and pastels, whose bright pure colours characterize his subsequent works. Roerich’s mastery of colours is evident in the use of a brilliant yet subtle palette. Mountain ranges in various shades of blue disappearing into the swirling white clouds, vivid mauve skies forming a backdrop to pastel pink and red brown hues, steel grey mountains framed by a glow of yellow sky at dusk, and still waters of mountain lakes reflecting an emerald green luminescence all heighten the magical moods of Roerich’s Himalayan landscapes.
The exhibition ‘Nicholas Roerich: An Eternal Quest’ showcases some works from the early years of Nicholas Roerich, which may be dubbed the Russian phase in context to this exhibition and the last years of his life that were spent in India studying the great Himalayas. Few human figures are present in his compositions, it is nature which is dominant. In his own opinion, the beauty of nature is an eternal source that elevates and ennobles the human soul. The mountains in his works always symbolize spiritual ascent, approach to harmony, light and eternity.
“When I think of Nicholas Roerich I am astounded at the scope and abundance of his activities and creative genius. A great artist, a great scholar and writer, archaeologist and explorer, he touched and lighted up so many aspects of human endeavor. The very quantity is stupendous — thousands of paintings and each of them a great work of art. When you look at these paintings, so many of them of the Himalayas. You seem to catch the spirit of those great mountains which have towered over the Indian plain and been our sentinels for ages past. They remind us of so much in our history, our thought. our cultural and spiritual heritage, so much not merely of the India of the past but of something that is permanent and eternal about India, that we cannot help feeling a great sense of indebtedness to Nicholas Roerich who has enshrined that spirit in these magnificent canvases.” Spoke Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, paying his tribute to the Great Russian artist and humanist Nicholas Roerich.
After World War II, Nicholas Roerich decided to return to his motherland: “I would like to be there as soon as possible and to contribute my experience and knowledge to the cause of Russia.” However he passed away in Kullu on December 13, the day of Shiva, auspicious for the Hindus.
A big, beautiful piece of rock has been placed on the cremation ground. Below the sign of the Banner of Peace, it is engraved in Hindi: “The body of Maharishi Nicholas Roerich, a great friend of India, was consecrated to fire on this spot on the 15th of December 1947. CM RAM.”
In Beauty we are united Through Beauty we pray, With Beauty we conquer.
Thus is the legacy of Nicholas Roerich: An Eternal Quest!
The curators would like to thank and acknowledge all the museums and institutions that have loaned their invaluable collection, which has enabled the realization of this exhibition.
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