Roerich, Nicholas K(onstantin) (1874–1947)
Versatile Russian-born painter, poet, writer, and mystic, and
founder of the Agni Yoga Society. He was born in St. Petersburg
on September 27, 1874, and educated at the University
of St. Petersburg, becoming a graduate of the law school. He
studied drawing and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, St.
Petersburg, and in Paris, France. In 1901, he married Helena
Ivanov Shaposhnikov; they had two children. Both Nicholas
and Helena Roerich were initially influenced by the theosophical
writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the co-founder of
Theosophy, and later by Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy,
and Alice A. Bailey.
Between 1901 and 1904, Roerich made a pilgrimage
through Russia during which he produced some 75 paintings,
exhibited at La Purchase Exposition, St. Louis. From 1906 to
1910, he was director of the School for Encouragement of Fine
Arts, Russia, president of the Museum of Russian Arts, first
president of Mir Iskusstva, and a leader in Moscow Art Theatre
Diagilev Ballet.
The Roerichs escaped Russia at the time of the revolution
and in 1920 migrated to the United States under the auspices
of the Art Institute of Chicago. Roerich established a number
of institutions with the aim of bringing humanity together
through education, art, and culture. He traveled extensively
and spent much time in Eastern countries, which strongly influenced
his philosophy.
He exhibited his paintings in New York in December 1920.
In 1921, he showed his work at the Institute of United Arts in
New York. He took an active part in the foundation of Cor Ardeus
(Flaming Heart) by a group of artists in Chicago, and in
September 1922, he associated himself with an international
cultural center named Corona Mundi (Crown of the World),
promoting cooperation among scientists and cultural workers
in different countries.
In 1923, the Roerich Museum was inaugurated in New York,
an occasion marked by President Calvin Coolidge with a greeting
to the founders. Roerich was also concerned with the American-Russian
Cultural Association. Although the Roerichs had
left Russia after the revolution, they devoted much time to attempting
to bring about friendly cultural relations between the
newly-established Soviet Union and the United States. Their
efforts were appreciated by the Soviet authorities. Georgi
Chickerin, a People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, once described
Roerich as ‘‘a half-Communist and a half-Buddhist.’’
Roerich spent five years in Central Asia as head of an expedition,
making 500 paintings. He took a great interest in United
States agriculture at a time when soil erosion threatened the
holdings of American farmers during the thirties. Roerich had
established an institute at Uruswathi, in Kulu, India, and sent
specimens of drought-resistant plants collected in Central Asia
to botanical research agencies in the United States. At the suggestion
of the U.S. Department of Agriculture he headed an expedition
to collect seeds of plants that prevented the destruction
of fertile layers of soil. He also headed a further expedition
to Japan in May 1934 and later continued these studies in Manchuria.
Roerich was internationally accepted at a time when his mysticism
and artistic talents ranked equally with his efforts to improve
agriculture and to bring about world peace. He was honored
by many counties, and awards included Commander, lst
class, Royal Swedish Order of North Star; Grand Cross, Legion
of Honor (France); Order of Saint Sava, lst class (Yugoslavia);
Commander of Order of Imperial Russians of St. Stanislas, St.
Anne and St. Vladimir; medal of city of Bruges, Belgium (for
plan of Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace). His Roerich Pact
and Banner of Peace was signed by twenty-two Pan-American
countries at the White House, Washington, D.C., in 1935.
Among his many artistic activities, he was responsible for a
number of works for the Chicago Opera Company, for the Russian
Ballet (scenery in Prince Igor), and for Konstantin Stanislavsky
(setting of Peer Gynt). He wrote libretto, and designed
scenery and costumes for Sacre du Printempts, for which Stravinsky
composed music. Ten Roerich Halls were established, in
Paris, Belgrade, Riga, Benares, Bruges, Allahabad, Zagreb,
Buenos Aires, Kyoto, and Praha. Roerich authored books on all
of the artistic and social activities which he sponsored.
In all these activities, he was assisted by his wife Helena, who
had in the meantime become a channel for Master Morya, one
of the masters first brought forth by Blavatsky. Her channelled
materials became the basis of what became known as Agni
Yoga, a variation on theosophical teachings very much like
those of Alice Bailey.
Roerich died December 12, 1947. The books of the Roerichs
are kept in print by the Agni Yoga Society and the Roerich Museum,
319 W. 107 St., New York, NY 10025.
Sources
Conlan, Barnett D. Nicholas Roerich A Master of the Mountains.
Liberty, Ind. Flamma, Association for Advancement of
Culture, 1938.
Fosdick, Sara. Nicholas Roerich. New York Nicholas Roerich
Museum, 1964.
Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. 2nd edition.
Detroit Gale Research, 1999.
Nicholas Roerich, 1874–1947. New York Nicholas Roerich
Museum, 1974.
Pealian, Gerhard. Nicholas Roerich. Agoura, Calif. Aquarian
Education Group, 1974.
Roerich, Nicholas. Adamant. New York Corona Mundi,
1922.
———. Flame in Chalice. New York Nicholas Roerich Museum,
1929.
———. Heart of Asia. New York Atlas Publishing, 1929.
———. Realm of Light. New York Nicholas Roerich Museum,
1931.