International Renaissance Man: Nicholas Roerich
On this day in 1874, Nicholas Roerich was born. The Russian artist (1874-1947) is often described as a "Renaissance man" due to his many activities and contributions to Russian culture.
1. Like many parents, Nicholas Roerich's father didn't feel painting could be a valid vocation for a "responsible member of society" and wanted his son to pursue law instead. The two managed to reach a compromise, though, that resulted in Roerich simultaneously attending art school and law school, and earning degrees from both.
2. Roerich became involved in pretty much every branch of the arts over the years. In addition to producing some 7,000 paintings and drawings, he wrote many books and articles and was heavily involved in ballet. Not only did he design scenery, sets, and costumes for ballets, but he co-wrote the libretto for The Rite of Spring (1913) with Igor Stravinsky. Around the world, a total of ten Roerich Halls were established, in Paris, Belgrade, Riga, Benares, Bruges, Allahabad, Zagreb, Buenos Aires, Kyoto, and Praha.
3. After spending his youth in Russia, Roerich spent his adult years in varied locations around the globe. He lived in Scandinavia, England, and the United States and traveled extensively through Asia. From 1925 to 1928, he trekked with his family through Ladakh, Chinese Turkestan, the Altai Mountains, the Gobi Desert, and Tibet. Eventually, he arrived in the Kulu Valley of India, in the Himalayan foothills, where he remained for the rest of his life.
4. Roerich advocated the international protection of art and culture, which led to the signing of the Roerich Pact on April 15, 1935. The United States and at least 20 other members of the Pan-American Union signed the pact, agreeing to protect cultural property. For this and other efforts, Roerich was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1929, 1932, and 1935).
5. Roerich's relationship with his wife Helena was one of great mutual support and collaboration. Roerich described Helena as his "inspirer" and "friendess," and their son later wrote, "Collaboration of Nicholas and Helena Roerichs was a most rare combination of full sound consonance on all planes. Supplementing each other, they seemed merged in a richest harmony of intellectual and spiritual expression."
A larger version of Nicholas Roerich's 1901 painting "Guests from Overseas," shown above, is available here.
Fans should check out the Roerich collection on Wikimedia; the International Centre of the Roerichs; the International Roerich Memorial Trust; the Nicholas Roerich Museum and Virtual Museum; and this video of his paintings.