Just when it looked like the market for Nikolai Roerich’s work was fading after a few lackluster sales this week, Bonhams puts the Russian-American mystical painter’s work back on the map with a powerful £7.9m sale in London. Part of the auction house’s £12.38m sale of Russian art, Madonna Laboris sold to a bidder on the telephone to set a new world record for the artist.
The lost masterpiece Madonna Laboris was always known to exist but its whereabouts had remained a mystery until it was rediscovered by Bonhams experts in a private collection in the U.S.A.
‘Madonna Laboris’ depicts the story from an apocryphal gospel which captured Roerich’s artistic imagination. In the transcendental heights above earth is Heaven, at the gate of which stands the Apostle Peter. Peter was disturbed and said to the Lord God: ‘All day long I watch the gates of Paradise; I do not let anyone in, yet in the morning there are newcomers in Paradise.’ And the Lord said: ‘Let us make the rounds at night, Peter.’ So they went in the night and they saw the Holy Virgin lowering along the wall her snow-white scarf, up which souls were climbing. Peter took this to heart and wanted to interfere, but the Lord whispered: “Shh… let be…” (Nicholas Roerich, To Womanhood, 1931).
A second world record was set by The Child Musicians by Alexander Volkov (1886-1957) which surpassed expectations selling for £2,057,250 to a buyer on the telephone after a lengthy battle with bidders in the saleroom. The painting is from the period which the artist described as his ‘return to realism’ and is considered to be one of his most important pictures of this period.