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Who Is Nicholas Roerich?

Updated on December 19, 2017

Nicholas Roerich - Artist

Once upon a time, many years ago, while I was searching for new spiritual guidance to replace that which I had rejected, I came across a brief mention of a Russian man named Nicholas Roerich.

He was said to be a writer, an artist, a scientist, a philosopher, and an explorer,

As I read more about Nicholas Roerich, I was entranced by his life, his travels, his scientific studies, his writings, his keen intellect, his drive to learn and his philosophy.

His name is still is not well known in the 21st century, and I intend for this Lens to change that.

How I found Nicholas Roerich and his art

Back in the dim dark ages, I was spiritually drifting. I had rejected the religion I was raised with (Protestant Christianity) and I was reading up about other religions. My reading included Buddhism and Theosophy.

I didnt like Buddhism at all. I found it to be too much like Christianity. Why? Its hierarchy was far too male oriented and females had literally no roles at all. Since I am a female, I did not want to be just another follower being told what to do, say and think. That was far too much like christianity. No I have a brain and it was my desire to learn things for myself, to ask questions.

Theosophy was not much better. It was led by a Russian women who claimed to be a spiritualist. (Helene Blavatsky). But while I was investigating Theosophy, I did come across a mention of Nicholas Roerich.

Roerich was said to be a writer, an artist, a scientist, a philosopher and an explorer. His art work instantly caught my attention. It was realistic (as opposed to abstract), and simple (not too busy) and some of the paintings had lovely bright colours. His paintings featured real places. I fell in love with them.

I love reading about men who could be considered renaissance men and Nicholas Roerich was definitely a renaissance man. What is even better is that Roerich lived in the 20th century, not the 15th century. Up until then, my most favourite renaissance man of all time had been Leonardo da Vinci. Now Leonardo has very stiff competition from Nicholas Roerich.

Photo - Procopius the Blessed Prays for the Unknown Travelers. 1914 - State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Nicholas Roerich Museum New York City

Introduction to the Roerichs

Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich, (October 9, 1874 - December 13, 1947), was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His father was a well-off notary public. By the time he was 16, Nicholas had discovered that he lived history and painting. Nicholas wanted to become an artist but his father refused. His father wanted to his son to become a lawyer like he was. Eventually they came to a compromise and in 1893, Nicholas enrolled in both the Academy of Arts to study art, and the University of St Petersburg to study law.

Despite having graduated with a law degree, he seems to have never actually practised law. Roerich much preferred painting. He got a job working for Sergei Diaghilev's art magazine (World of Art) and later Diaghilev's ballet studio painting backdrops and designing sets. Roerich was also painting. He is believed to have created around 8000 paintings in total. His early paintings had a religious theme - mostly Buddhism. He was interested in all arts and especially in combining eastern philosophy and art with western knowledge.

Roerich wrote around 30 books and also created an international pact for the protection of artistic and academic institutions and historical sites (Roerich's Pact). Roerich was nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace Prize but never won it. His nominations were in 1929, 1932 and 1935.

Roerich married Helena Shaposhnikova in 1899 and they had 2 sons - Yuri (b 1902) and Svetoslav (b 1907). Helena too was interested in Buddhism as well as Theosophy.

Photo - Prince Igor Opera by Borodin in Paris - Décor for Borodin's opera "Prince Igor" 1908 - Source Nicholas Roerich Museum New York City

Some of Roerich's paintings

Music only - no voice over.

More about Nicholas Roerich

In 1920, Roerich was invited by the Director of the Chicago Institute of Arts to organize a big exhibition tour around 30 cities of the USA. Nicholas Roerich accepted that invitation, and left London along with his wife and sons.

In November of 1921, the Master Institute of United Arts was opened in New York. The artists association "Cor Ardens" ("Blazing Hearts") was established in Chicago in that same year. In 1922, the International Cultural Center "Corona Mundi" ("Crown of the World") appeared. In 1923, Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York opened its doors. It contained the biggest collection of the artist's paintings.

Also in 1923, Roerich's cherished dream came true. On December 2 that year, Roerich and his family arrived in India. There, preparations for the most important trip of his life began. This was to be an expedition to the most difficult and hard to reach areas of Central Asia. These areas had for a long time attracted the attention of Roerich not only as a painter, but as a scientist interested in a number of problems related to ancient migrations, and search for a common source of Slavic and Indian cultures.

The expedition's extremely difficult itinerary ran through Sikkim, Kashmir, Ladakh, China (Xingxian), Russia (including Moscow), Siberia, Altai, Mongolia, Tibet, and unknown areas of Trans Himalayas. The expedition took 3 years - from March 1925 to May 1928. After the expedition ended, Roerich and his wife Helena, founded the Institute of Himalayan Studies. At the same time, Nicholas Roerich and his family found their new home in the valley of Kulu in Western Himalayas.

In the 1930s, sensing the threat of a forthcoming war, Roerich developed a special Pact for protection of cultural values in the period of warfare and civil strife. This cultural initiative was supported in the widest circles of the world public. The Pact was signed in the White House in Washington DC, on April 15, 1935.

Rorich always remained a patriot and a Russian citizen only holding one passport - Russian. Roerich never gave up the thought of returning to his home country. Right after the end of the war, the artist applied for a visa to enter the Soviet Union. But his intentions were not to be realized. On December 13, 1947, he passed away, without knowing that he was denied the visa.

Image Source - Red Mountains - Santa Fe, New Mexico - 1921

Where there is Peace, there is Culture.

Where there is Culture, there is Peace.

Paintings by Svetoslav Roerich

Paintings by Svetoslav Roerich (October 23, 1904-January 30, 1993) Russian painter, son of Nicholas and Helena Roerich

Music by Vangelis & Stina Nordenstam

Title - Ask the Mountains

Had you ever heard of Nicholas Roerich before reading this Lens?

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    • Aquavel profile image


      6 years ago

      I used to live in NY and spent many afternoons at the Nicholas Roerich Museum in front of those wonderful paintings. Now I'm 3000 miles away and your lens is like a home coming! I was looking for one of Roerich's paintings on Google and stumbled onto your lens! Well done resource and wonderful lens! After reading through your lens again I just want to say, it may be time for a companion lens. :) Helena and AY awaits! :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      He was very noble and respected man. Great artist, adventurer. His pictures are full of spiritual meaning. I also like his works veery much.

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 

      7 years ago

      I have never heard of him, but I like the art that you put on this page. Very nice!

    • delia-delia profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens and great artist, he was way beyond his time...

    • sheriangell profile image


      8 years ago

      Welcome to Squidoo! I've never seen any of Nicholas Roerich's work before. It's very interesting, especially his use of color.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for introducing me to Nicholas Roerich..must say his art is something I sure live to hang in my main room!


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