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starts on 15 Dec 10:00
United States, Chicago
American and European Art
Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
Sale 540 Lot 463
The Snow Maiden (Stage Design)
oil on canvas
24 x 36 inches.
Estimate $ 100,000-150,000
Sold for: $181,500
Property from the Estate of James M. Kemper Jr., Kansas City, Missouri
Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974
Lot 29 of 69
EVENING SALE | NEW DELHI, LIVE
20 SEPTEMBER 2018
Rs 2,20,00,000 - 2,80,00,000
$307,695 - 391,610
The Snow Maiden (Stage Design)
Bearing Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc. label (on the reverse of the board)
Oil and tempera on canvas
23.5 x 35.5 in (59.5 x 90 cm)
NON-EXPORTABLE NATIONAL ART TREASURE
Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., New York, 1974
Formerly from the Estate of James M. Kemper Jr., Kansas City, Missouri
From a Private Collection, New Delhi
THE SNOW MAIDEN
Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden, is a Russian folk tale which has been adapted for the opera and the theatre. The Bolshoi Theatre lists it as a "Fantasy on themes by Nicolas Roerich," and describes it thus: "The Snow Maiden is an opera in four acts with a prologue by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, composed during 1880-1881. The Russian libretto, by the composer, is based on the like-named play by Alexander Ostrovsky (which had premiered in 1873 with incidental music by Tchaikovsky). The first performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera took place at the Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg on 29 January 1882 conducted by Eduard Napravnik. By 1898 it was revised in the edition known today. It remained the composer's own favorite work.
The story deals with the opposition of eternal forces of nature and involves the interactions of mythological characters (Frost, Spring, Wood-Sprite), real people (Kupava, Mizgir'), and those in-between, i.e., half-mythical, half-real (Snow Maiden, Lel', Berendey). The composer strove to distinguish each group of characters musically, and several individual characters have their own associated leitmotifs. In addition to these distinctions, Rimsky-Korsakov characterized the townspeople particularly with folk melodies." (bolshoyrussia.com, online)
One of the most celebrated artists of the turn of the century, Nicholas Roerich had a career that spanned three continents, two world wars, and a repertoire of paintings that firmly cemented his position in the canon of world art. From his early years in Imperial Russia to his last spiritually-focussed days in the Himalayas, Roerich was a formidable figure in the world of philosophy and art. The present lot is a painting for a stage design of the Russian opera Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden, from the early years of Roerich's artistic career, which were intertwined with theatre.
Born Nikolai Konstantinovich Rerikh on 9 October 1874 in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was raised in an upper middle-class family which interacted with influential people in Russia's vibrant art and cultural scene. Roerich developed an interest in archaeology and prehistoric artefacts, and showed a propensity for drawing at a young age. He enrolled simultaneously at the Academy of Art as well as St. Petersburg University to study law. In 1897, he received the title of "artist" and began working at the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts, of which he was later the Director, from 1906 to 1917.
Roerich's interest in theatre and opera was sparked by a meeting with the writer, critic and historian Vladimir Stasov in 1895, who introduced him to important composers including Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Igor Stravinsky. Roerich frequently attended concerts at the Court Conservatory, developing a great enthusiasm for music. One of his main inspirations was the music of Richard Wagner, and he created stage designs for many of Wagner's operas. Critics have praised such paintings for their particular harmony of colour. In The World of Roerich, Nina Selivanova writes: "The original force of Roerich's work consists in a masterly and marked symmetry and a definite rhythm, like the melody of an epic song." (roerich.org, online)
Roerich worked closely with Russian art critic Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the magazine Mir Isskustva (World of Art) in the late 1890s, which inspired the Avant-Garde art movement. "In 1906, in the first of many entrepreneurial eff orts that were to bring Russian art and music to the attention of Europeans, Sergei Diaghilev arranged an exhibition of Russian paintings in Paris." (roerich.org, online) Among these were sixteen works by Roerich, who later designed and painted sets and scenes for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, one of the most influential ballet companies of the 20th century. The company was enormously successful in Europe and America, "because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers." (russianballethistory. com, online) Roerich, with Diaghilev, was at the forefront of the efforts which "modernised and legitimised theatrical design and decorative art to the point of raising them to the level of an art form itself. Through painting, the miriskussniki also brought ancient and primeval Slavic myths to the fore, as well as connections between Russian art, past and present. This was particularly true of Roerich's work." (Joseph C Troncale, "The Transcendent as Theatre in Roerich's Paintings," Manju Kak ed., Nicholas Roerich: A Quest and A Legacy, New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2013, online)
In 1908, Roerich was commissioned by the Opera Comique in Paris to produce designs for Rimsky- Korsakov's opera Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), which was never performed. Over the next couple of decades, Roerich created the designs for four stage productions of Snegurochka. In 1912, he was invited once again, this time to design for Alexander Ostrovsky's play, which was chosen as the opening act for a new theatre in St. Petersburg. The designs for the 1912 production largely followed the style of its operatic version, and were inspired by Roerich's studies of Russia's ancient history and early pagan cultures. The same year, Roerich also worked on Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolda (Tristan and Isolde). Roerich was later invited to create the stage design for the operatic productions of Snegurochka in London in 1919, and for the Chicago Opera Company in 1921. The present lot was painted as part of the stage design for one of these four productions.
Roerich's innovative designs gained fame for their historical accuracy, originality and unique artistic imagination, which resulted from the artist's deep interest and scholarship in all aspects of Russian culture. "Roerich's artistic work in the theatre is invariably linked with his painting. The two are bound together by that general circle of interests, ideas and themes, as well as those particularities of the way he thinks in images, all of which come together as one in him as a historian, an archaeologist and an artist-a unique interpreter of ancient eras." (F Syrkina quoted in Troncale, online) When working on stage or costume design for a theatrical piece, whether opera or ballet, he made easel paintings "that were considered masterpieces in their own right. One scholar writes that Roerich's 'sketches' for set or costume designs can be seen as such only 'provisionally' or 'conditionally' since the boundary between easel painting and theatrical decorative art all but disappears in his work. This symbiotic fusion of easel painting and theatrical decorative art in his painting... is one of the particular characteristics of Roerich's oeuvre." (Troncale, online) The present lot perfectly captures Roerich's complex vision and rich imagination which led the audience into the magical world of theatre.