During Christie’s June Russian art sale, the little-known-to-New-Yorkers-now-but-once-internationally-famous Nicholas Roerich Museum on Manhattan’s Upper West Side will sell two works that have never appeared at auction before to fund acquisitions:
Here’s what Daniel Entin, Director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York, said: “In order to enrich and build as representative a collection as is possible, we are offering for sale two wonderful paintings, each quite different from the other, to acquire works that are of equal importance in the Roerich oeuvre, but of a period insufficiently represented in our collection. It is painful to see well-loved paintings go out the front door of the museum, maybe not to be seen again. But, to quote Roerich himself, these paintings have their own lives to live, their own freedom to go where they are wanted.”
Painted in 1924, during Roerich’s first year living in India,White and Heavenly from the series His Country (estimate: £500,000-700,000) is an outstanding example from the artist’s series His Country, dedicated to the interpretation of the Himalayan landscape. India became more than another travel destination for Roerich. It was where he embarked on a new chapter in his life, recalibrating his search for mission and identity and continuing to work towards spiritual fulfillment. White and Heavenly shows the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and clouds from a high vantage point, where the earth and heavens meet, a place of transition that no doubt had particular significance for him in his own spiritual journey. Roerich presents a glimpse of the world, devoid of the narratives and figures that sometimes fill his other work, and depicts light and texture with brushwork that verges on abstraction. No other works from the series His Country are left in private hands, presenting a unique opportunity for collectors.
The Host of Gesar Khan (estimate: £500,000-700,000) was painted in 1931, another prolific year when Roerich returned to his estate in Kullu, India after spending a year and a half in New York and Europe running his various institutions and promoting his Peace Pact for the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide. The Host of Gesar Khan evokes the image of Gesar, the great semi-mythical King, venerated widely throughout Central Asia. The epic of King Gesar is a narrative cycle that originated in northeast Tibet around the 12th century and relates the heroic deeds of the hero-king Gesar. Roerich became fascinated with Gesar during his Central Asian expedition. To him, Gesar was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil, the great Saviour on par with Maitreya Buddha, on whom rested the hopes of humanity for the new era of truth, justice and beauty. In the painting, the story unfolds amidst a magnificent setting in the mountains. The many layers of the composition give it a depth and dynamism that makes it seem like the viewer is embarking on a descent into the valley. The warm, rosy light of dawn touches the warriors, and the bright green earth in the foreground, contrasts sharply with the dark mountains. Roerich captures the quiet moments before battle, embedding the atmosphere with all signs that point to victory.