Command of the Master, 1931
oil on canvas, 80x124cm
Nicholas Roerich is a versatile Russian artist who conveys his ideas that glorify man and nature through painting, theatre, and philosophical and mystical discussions. He received a broad-based education early on, and studied law, archaeology, art history and painting. His idea on the international protection of cultural property in war and peace is known as the Roerich Pact. In early 20th century, in addition to painting, he worked as a set and costume designer – he was hired by Sergei Diaghilev, and he collaborated on the ballet The Rite of Spring with Stravinsky. Towards the end of World War I, he moved to America and from there he travelled to Tibet and India many times to study ancient cultures in line with the Rousseau-Enlightenment idea on the original condition of pantheism. He ascribes moral value to art. Roerich is a painter of symbolic landscapes, and his most common motif are the mountains – he is known as a master of the mountains – with the frequent absence of the human figure. If the human figure does appear, as in the painting Command of the Master, then it is Geser Khan, hero-God of Tibet and Manchuria shown form behind, in contemplation, as he looks over the nearby bluish slopes. Mountains symbolise eternity and immutability, a state of total consciousness and mental discipline. He achieves a kind of New Age character of images-symbols of subjective peace and eternity with large surfaces of colour, enclosed by contour lines, and by avoiding the projection of depth of formal elements that would contribute to foreshortening. In New York, Roerich founded a museum dedicated to his work, which today operates as a centre for the study of Roerich’s achievements, not only in art but science, spirituality and peace-making. Together with his wife Helena, he founded Agni Yoga, a doctrine of Living Ethics in line with the Neo-Theosophical religion.
Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art ©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb