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The Master of Mountains: Nicholas Roerich
By Kaavya Pillai
12 Dec 2022
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich was not only one of the most eminent artists of the 20th century, but a scholar, humanitarian and writer as well. His works have transgressed beyond geographical boundaries to now be forever immortalised as art of great significance. The most impactful of his works are studies of the Himalayan mountain range, a two-decade long fascination for the artist.
Born on October 9, 1874 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich joined the Academy of Art at the young age of sixteen. To quieten concerns from his lawyer father about pursuing a career in art, he joined St. Petersburg University at the same time.
In 1906 the artist was made the Director of the Academy for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Russia. He would go on to become the President of the World for Art soon after in 1910 and would also exhibit his works in London and the USA. Due to rising political tensions in their home country and health issues, Nicholas along with wife Helena, and sons George and Svetoslav decided to move to India in 1923.
His arrival in India would grant him access to the vast lands along with its rich culture and diverse people. On his travels through India with his family, Roerich would meet some of the greatest minds of the country including the Tagores. In 1928, he settled in Naggar in the Kullu Valley, located at the Himalayan foothills, after several trekking expeditions throughout Asia. In the same year he would set up Uruswati Himalayan Research Institute where expeditions to study and research places in and around the Himalayas were conducted. And thus, his quintessential series of works documenting the Himalayan range would begin.
He had first realised his love for Indian mountains when he had seen a painting of a mountain range at a young age. He later discovered that this majestic painting was that of Kanchenjunga and decided that he would someday visit the peak and paint it himself.
In over 20 years of painting the Himalayas in magnificent colour compositions, using vivid imagery, it is evident that the artist grew familiar and developed a love for the ranges. The attention to detail in his works, his penchant for understanding both nature and culture through art and the drama achieved in these paintings surpass any other landscapes of the time. These would in turn inspire generations of artists to come. He often explored his interest in mysticism and spirituality through these works. The mountains are depicted in shifting tones and hues, through sunsets and sunrises, sometimes with tiny figures in the forefront to portray the mighty scale of the peaks.
In his lifetime, Roerich would go on to create a massive oeuvre with over 500 works that were concerned only with the mountain ranges that captured his interest. Also called the ‘Apostle of Culture and Peace’, the artist’s legacy has forever impacted art history and continues to inspire.
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