Nicholas Roerich, Mystic, Artist, Explorer

If there was one advantage of communism it is that it drove out from the lands where it became dominant some of their best minds and they enrich the non-communist world. The many outstanding Tibetan monks who are now promoting Buddhism in the west are doing so because they fled from Mao’s oppression. One of but many great minds that fled Lenin’s tyranny was the great painter and mystic Nicholas Roerich. Although world famous in the 1920s and 30s he then faded into obscurity and was pretty much forgotten until 2013 when one of his paintings sold in auction for £7,881,250, the highest price ever paid for a painting by as a Russian artist. Who was this once forgotten man? Nicholas Roerich was born in St. Petersburg in 1874 matriculated simultaneously at St. Petersburg University and the Imperial Academy of Arts. He worked for the Imperial Academy for the Encouragement of the arts becoming its director between 1906 and 1917. Early on he became interested in Theosophy, Buddhism and the teachings of the Hindu saint Ramakrishna and in his paintings by Rabindranath Tagore and other artists of the so-called Bengal Revival. Like many intellectuals Roerich he enthusiastically welcomed the Russian Revolution but was dismayed when it was hijacked by Lenin and his Bolsheviks in October. Realizing what would be in store for the country under Lenin Roerich fled to Finland and later to the UK. While in London he was befriended by H. G. Wells and particularly by the pioneering Buddhist Christmas Humphreys who gave him a deeper understanding of the Dhamma than he had before. In 1920 the Art Institute of Chicago held an exhibition of Roerich’s paintings and invited him to the US where he toured and lectured widely. With his long white beard, gentle smile and strange mystical ideas he was the talk of the town. The exhibition later toured the country and eventually a museum of his paintings was established which still exists today, the Nicholas Roerich Museum at 319 West 107th Street, New York.



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