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*49. ROERICH, NICHOLAS
*49. ROERICH, NICHOLAS (1874-1947)
The Treasure, signed with a monogram and dated 1919.
Oil and tempera on canvas, 101 by 151 cm.
Provenance: Collection of the Roerich Museum, New York, 1923–1935.
Collection of Nettie and Louis Horch, New York, from 1935.
Acquired from the above by João Da Motta, a Portuguese Representative in the UN, New York, in 1979.
Important Silver, Objects of Vertu and Russian Works of Art, Christie’s New York, 24 October 2002, lot 26.
Private collection, USA.
Russian Art Evening Sale, Sotheby’s London, 8 June 2009, lot 22.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.
Exhibited: Nicholas Roerich Taidenäyttely (Nicholas Roerich Art Exhibition), Salon Strindberg, Helsinki, opened 29 March 1919.
Nicolas Roerich. Spells of Russia, The Goupil Gallery, London, April–July 1920.
Nicolas Roerich. Spells of Russia, The Public Art Gallery, Worthing, July–August 1920.
The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition, Kingor Galleries, New York, NY; Boston Art Club, Boston, MA; Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute, Chicago, Il; St Louis City Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO; Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA; Fine Arts Society, Omaha, NE; Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, IN; Minnesota State Fair, MN; Milwaukee Institute of Art, Milwaukee, WI; Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI, and more cities, 1920–1923.
Roerich Museum (permanent collection), New York, 1923–1935.
Literature: N. Roerich. List of Paintings, 1917–1924. Autograph, Nicholas Roerich Museum archive, No. 1 in year 1919.
Exhibition catalogue, Nicholas Roerich Taidenäyttely (Nicholas Roerich Art Exhibition), Helsinki, Salon Strindberg, Konstutstallning No. 71, listed as Aarteet, No. 73.
Exhibition catalogue, Nicolas Roerich. Spells of Russia, London, The Goupil Gallery, 1920, No. 95, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Nicolas Roerich. Spells of Russia, Worthing, The Public Art Gallery, 1920, No. 76, listed.
N. Jarintzov, Nicholas K. Roerich, London, The Studio, 1920, p. 8, illustrated.
C. Brinton, The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition Catalogue, 1920–1921–1922, New York, Redfield-Kendrick-Odell Company, Inc., 1921, No. 9, listed, pl. , illustrated.
F. Grant et al, Roerich. Himalaya. A Monograph, New York, Brentano’s Publishers, 1926, p. 197, listed.
Roerich Museum Catalogue, New York, 1930, No. 9, p. 11, listed (with incorrect year 1918).
The Treasure displays Roerich’s fascination with legends of ancient wanderers who “remembered to call of other remote mountains, and again strove onward, counting nor the days, nor years, no centuries of their wandering”. The treasures they left behind, which were cultural and spiritual rather than material, were not simply tangible relics but symbols whose very essence rested in their mysterious and unreachable quality. The secrets within them had to be kept hidden in order to be preserved, especially in desperate times. Roerich himself was forced to flee to Finland in 1917 at the outbreak of the revolution, and the tragedy and dissolution of his surroundings inspired a nostalgic appreciation of the mystical past. The Treasure reflects typical Karelian scenery, and depicts a more polished culmination of the hundreds of rough sketches the artist produced in the earlier couple of years. The landscape’s bold outlines and relatively simple composition reflect a primitiveness that is conceptual and carefully constructed rather than spontaneous, as if every inch of paint is as sacred as the ancient traditions he admired.
We are grateful to Gvido Trepša, Senior Researcher at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York, for catalogue information.
Nikolai Roerich visited Karelia on many occasions: he was captivated by its epic past – the runes of the Kalevala, its ancient heroes and legends. For this reason, when chronic pulmonary illness forced the artist in 1916 to seek a change of climate, he chose North Ladoga. Roerich and his family settled in Finland, which won her independence after the revolution, to see out the cataclysmic events of that historic time. In the summer of 1918, the Roerichs moved from Serdobol (now Sortavala) to the island of Tulolansaari – called simply Tulon by the local people. This is one of the largest islands in Lake Ladoga, between 8 and 9 kilometres to the East of Sortavala. In the central and eastern parts of the island are massifs of the Serdobol granite that was used in the building of St Petersburg.
The wild landscape of the North with its vast lakes delighted Roerich and inspired him. In this region the artist conceived and created around two hundred oil paintings. These included Holy Island, the series entitled Karelia, Cloud Messenger, Missive to Theodore Tyron, Ecstasy, Sons of Heaven, and the Heroicaseries that presaged the path Roerich’s life would follow later, and his spiritual mission. His picture entitled The Treasure was also painted using the studies and numerous sketches he made while living at Tulon.
Roerich’s interest in the North was inseparable from his interest in Russia’s past – her history. It was also at this time that the artist began to study the ancient local churches, laying emphasis on the uniqueness of Finnish mural painting; the fantastic decoration, birds, and wild beasts reminded him of Nordic rock carvings –“there is a sense in them of the time when Christianity laid its hands on a hallowed shamanism”. There was an attraction for Roerich in digging down to the very ancient, deep-lying strata from the time when the spirit of the North was being forged, when people and Nature lived together. His love for the old tales and legends is also reflected in the offered painting The Treasure, whose meaning is in the eternal quest for an ancient magical Knowledge long since associated with the lands of the North.
Legend speaks of folk from the North who went away to live below the earth, carrying with them the mystic knowledge of the creation of the world, whose scattered traces – the greatest spiritual treasures that there are – the earth still bears. From time immemorial the Russian people’s dream of a better life has fixed its gaze on the North. It is in the North, in the opinion of many Russian bibliophiles and visionaries, where that happy and blessed land lies which may be compared to an earthly paradise, and which has been preserved in folk memory under the name of Belovodye, the ideal land of Slav legend that is not an objective, but a spiritual reality, with an image that has garnered all the human wisdom of a thousand years. Roerich looked to the North to seek out the origins of the lore surrounding this enigmatic land. He made a serious study of the northern fables and legends, did academic research, and drew. As a result of his research, the idea emerged that an ancient spiritual tradition exists, forming a single unbroken chain that begins in the North and ends in the East, in Tibet and the Himalayas.
In this chain, there is no sense in which the importance of Karelia to Roerich’s spiritual and artistic quest is outshone by the Himalayas, and the pictures he created in the North are full of equally deep, mystical meaning.