Nicholas Roerich

Born: 1874, St Petersburg
Died: 1947, Naggar (India)
Selected works:
San Gimignano

Painter, theatrical designer, teacher, public activist, writer. Descended from an old Swedish or Icelandic family (Rö Rich means “rich of fame” in ancient Scandinavian) who settled in the Baltic region (18th century). Born in St Petersburg to lawyer Konstantin Roerich and merchant’s daughter Maria Kalashnikova (1874). Studied drawing under the sculptor Mikhail Mikeshin (1891–93) and painting under Arkhip Kuinji at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1893–97) in parallel to studies at the Faculty of Law of St Petersburg University (1893–98). Joined the Russian Archaeological Society and took part in many excavations (1894–97). Studied at Fernand Cormon’s studio and under Pierre Puvis de Chavannes in Paris (1900–01). Married Helena Shaposhnikova (1901). Toured historical Russian towns and worked at the Talashkino estate of Princess Maria Tenisheva (1903–04). Member of the World of Art (1902, chairman 1910–13) and the Union of Russian Artists (1903–10), full member of the Salon d’Automne in Paris (from 1906) and the Vienna Sezession (from 1908), committee member of the Society of Architects (1908) and the Society for the Rebirth of Artistic Rus (1915–17), founding member of the Arkhip Kuinji Society (1909) and life member of the Fédération française des artistes. Visited Italy and Switzerland (1906). Awarded the Légion d’honneur (1906) and the Swedish Order of the Polar Star (1914). Director of the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (1906–18). Collaborated with the Historical Theatre in St Petersburg, Moscow Arts Theatre, Zimin Opera, Free Theatre and Petrograd Theatre of Musical Drama (from 1907). Academician of painting (1909). Contributed to Sergei Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes in Paris and London, helping to design the sets and costumes for Mikhail Fokine’s ballet Polovtsian Dances, Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Maid of Pskov at the Théâtre du Châtelet (1909), Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1913) and Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor at Drury Lane Theatre (1914). Lived in Finland (1918–19), moved to London (1919) and the United States (1920). Founded the Cor Ardens (Flaming Heart) International Society of Artists in Chicago (1920), Institute of United Arts in New York (1921, later transformed into the Corona Mundi (Crown of the World) International Art Centre), Roerich Museum (1923) and the Agni Yoga Society (1923). Moved to France (1923), travelled through north India, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies. Headed an expedition to Central Asia (1925). Settled with his family in Kullu Valley in north India (1928). Founded the “Urusvati” Institute of Himalayan Studies (1928). Launched the Roerich Pact to protect cultural valuables in times of war and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1929). Conducted an expedition to Mongolia, Manchuria and China for the US Department of Agriculture (1934–35). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1895). Contributed to the spring exhibitions of the Imperial Academy of Arts and the exhibitions of the World of Art (1902, 1903, 1911–17), Union of Russian Artists (1903–10), Salon d’Automne (1906, 1921), Sergei Makovsky Salon (1909), Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions, exhibitions of Russian art in Venice (1906, 1908, 1914), Paris (1906–09, 1921), Berlin (1906), Vienna (1908), London (1909, 1912, 1921), Brussels (1910, 1928), Belgrade (1930) and Wilmington (1932), Exposition Universelle in Paris (1900), World Exhibition in St Louis (1904) and the international exhibitions in Munich (1909), Rome (1911, 1914), Malmö (1914) and Pittsburgh (1924). One-man shows in Prague, Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Düsseldorf (1905), Vienna (1906), Tsarskoe Selo (1909), Stockholm (1918), Helsinki (1919), Copenhagen (1919), New York (1920), India (1941–44), Moscow (1957–58, 2002, 2006), St Petersburg (2004–05), Almaty (2007) and Krasnoyarsk, Kemerovo and Kazan ( 2011).

Random articles