The Nicholas Roerich Museum is situated in the very heart of Moscow, on the territory of the Lopoukhins’ ancient city estate. It hardly resembles other art museums and galleries. Its history and fate are as unique and unusual as the life of the man whose name it bears.
Nicholas Roerich (Никола́й Константи́нович Ре́рих October 9, 1874 – December 13, 1947)was a Russian painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, perceived by some in Russia as an enlightener, philosopher, and public figure, who in his youth was influenced by a movement in Russian society around the spiritual. He was interested in hypnosis and other spiritual practices and his paintings are said to have hypnotic expression.
To Svetoslav Nikolayevich Roerich belongs the initiative to build the first cultural institution of a new type in the country, the Nicholas Roerich Public Museum, in honor of a great painter, thinker, versatile scientist, talented pedagogue, and famous public figure. The Museum was established as a public cultural center according to Svetoslav Roerich’s understanding of Сulture. Since, in his opinion, a cultural organization must not be a state organization, but a public one. As S. Roerich had predicted, a considerable independence in the use of new approaches together with the potential for wide-ranged cultural initiatives and a versatile collaboration with the International community beyond any departmental barriers, allowed to create in Russia a unique synthetic cultural center. A Museion of the 21st century was established: an emanation of the new times and new cultural and historical tasks.
The Museum contents comprises the Roerichs’ priceless cultural heritage passed on to the Soviet Roerichs’ Foundation (now International Center of the Roerichs) by Svetoslav Roerich in 1990. Exceptionally rich in terms of artistic, philosophic and scientific content, it carries in itself a new cosmic world view for which new interest grows more each year.
The core of the Roerichs’ heritage is the philosophy of cosmic reality – the Living Ethics, which develops the idea of a close relationship between man and Cosmos, contains knowledge which assists in understanding the specific features peculiar to the new evolutionary stage of mankind’s development.
The Museum exhibition, created by the Nicholas Roerich Museum General Director Ludmila Shaposhnikova reflects the key stages in life and the creative path of our great compatriots and acquaints the visitors with their truly dedicated activities. Unique exhibits saturated with spiritual energy fill the ancient vaulted halls with a special aura.
Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerichs’ canvases, reflecting the cosmic character of world perception, allow the visitor to come into contact with the endless and magnificent world of the Beauty. Through color and symbols the philosophical ideas of the Living Ethics are reflected in these canvases.,. Here we find various relics, gifts from the Roerichs’ Spiritual Teacher, manuscript and art rarities, books and monographs from the Roerichs’ Memorial Library together with personal belongings and objects that accompanied them in their long wanderings, photo documents and a collection of ancient bronzes from the Indian valley of Kulu. All this and many other things comprise the Nicholas Roerich Museum permanent exhibit, which expands the circle of usual images, making one strive for cognition of the new cosmic reality. Thanks to Maecenases, the Museum exposition is constantly replenished with new exhibits, including Roerichs’ priceless paintings.
The peculiarity of the Museum’s art collection is the extensive collection of Himalayan sketches painted by N. Roerich. It is especially these sketches that constitute the basis for the traveling exhibitions shown in Russia, in CIS countries, and in other places abroad. The Nicholas Roerich Museum is the only one in the country that organizes moving exhibitions in the most remote corners of Russia, not confining itself to major cities and cultural centers. This gives millions of people an opportunity to come into contact with the Roerichs’ amazing canvases.
The Nicholas Roerich Museum distinctive features are its versatile cultural and scientific activities, which go far beyond the framework of traditional museum work. In the Museum halls annual International conferences dedicated to important issues of culture and science are held where well-known scientists and public figures participate..: The exhibitions of modern painters-cosmists are diplayed here;as well as classical music concerts and lectures by leading representatives of science and specialists in the field of philosophy, history, culture, and pedagogy.; Children’s drawing competitions, festivals of ethnic culture, exhibitions of folk crafts and creative function events are also organized. Moreover, the Museum actively collaborates with many state and public organizations, including international ones.
Thus, during its existence, the Nicholas Roerich Museum, a non-governmental and dynamically developing institution, has turned into a truly unique spiritual and cultural Russian Center for the preservation, development and popularization of the Roerich’s family philosophical and artistic heritage and lifetime achievement – the philosophy of cosmic reality – the Living Ethics.
One cannot help noting the exceptional leading role in the establishment and development of the Nicholas Roerich Museum of its unchanging General Director, Svetoslav Roerich’s authorized representative and testamentary executor, the International Center of the Roerichs First Vice-President, the RF Honored Worker for the Arts, the academician Ludmila Vassilievna Shaposhnikova, who determines all the principal trends of the museum’s life.
To her, an outstanding scientist and talented organizer truly dedicated to Culture, Svetoslav Roerich entrusted to bring his parents’ unique legacy to their Motherland, and it is her whom he recommended as the Museum’s leading figure, in all ways supporting all her initiatives.
Restored from ruins and reconstructed with a lot of love, the Lopoukhins’ estate (17th – 19th centuries), the main building of which constitutes the Nicholas Roerich Museum, together with the re-created “Krasnoye” (“Red”) porch (17th century) and the Roerich family’s memorial sculptural complex have turned the Museum into an authentic architectural and artistic ensemble of the Russian capital. All works have been completed thanks to the support of Maecenases and many friends of the Museum. This has occured without any funding on behalf of the state, which confirms the viability and efficiency of publicly funded forms of cultural organizations.
However, bureaucrats could not tolerate losing the possibility of managing the cultural values passed over by S. Roerich to a publicly funded museum. Up until the present day, various state departments have attempted to paralyze and destroy its activity. And this as well bestowes a certain “uniqueness” on the museum. There is hardly any other museum in the world against which the state would wage a shameless and merciless war for almost two decades, a war aimed at its complete destruction. Until now, 288 canvases by Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich, from our Museum’s permanent diplay, are illegally retained by the State Museum of Oriental Art.
The Roerichs’ heritage is the key to the most important creative achievements of mankind. Its significance for the fate of Russia and the whole world cannot be overestimated. Protection of this Heritage and its development for the sake of Russia’s future is our immediate duty and obligation.
The Petersburg Hall.
St. Petersburg was the beloved hometown of Nicholas Roerich. It was the place where his scientific believes were formed, and his multi-faceted talent got recognition. In 1899 Nicholas Roerich met Helena Shaposhnikova who became his faithful spouse, inspirer and friend. “We were creating together,” N. Roerich wrote in his books. Their work was continued by their sons — professor George Roerich, a world-known orientalist, and Svetoslav Roerich,an illustrious artist and public activist.
In the exposition of the hall there are family photos, documents, paintings, archive materials covering the Roerichs family life till 1916.
The Russian Hall.
The image of the Motherland created by N. Roerich is one of the most beautiful and profound in his art. The exposition of the hall includes paintings created in different times and in different countries but all of them dedicated to Russia – that was the focus theme of the artist’s creativity. Among these masterpieces there are such famous ones as “Terra Slavonica”, “Saint Sergius”, “The Heavenly Forces are Now Invisibly Serving with Us” (“Easter Night”), and paintings of “Sancta” series created by N. Roerich in 1922 in the USA. These paintings are filled with harmony of silence, they embrace the spirit of Russian Land which is inseparable from Russian Soul.
The Living Ethics Hall.
This hall is the center of the Museum exposition. The hall exhibits paintings of the series “Banner of the East”, triptych “Joan of Arc”, “Chintamani”, “The Command of Rigden Japo”. These works with a deep philosophical subtext rush the humanity into the future towards its spiritual development and evolutionary progress.
In the showcases of the hall there are Helena Roerich’s diaries, modern publications, and rare editions of Living Ethics volumes – “The Call”, “Heart”, “Fairy World” – published in Russian language in Paris and Riga.
The Masters’ Hall is dedicated to Mahatmas – Great Souls – this is what they call in the East the Teachers, who have been leading the mankind along the way of spiritual improvement for centuries. At the hall there are Eastern Teachers’ portraits, the unique triptych “Fiat Rex” and the paintings from the series “His Country” by Nicholas Roerich. Exhibits of one of the hall’s show-cases include 16th century Iranian manuscript “Shahname” (“The Book of Kings”) by poet Firdousi, little cornelian birds, and the ring of Egyptian queen Nifertiti (XIV centuries B.C.) presented to Helena Roerich.
In this hall there are also some drawings by Helena Roerich, performed in pencil. Many of them made the basis for paintings of Nicholas Roerich, who often repeated that each of his paintings should be signed with two names – the man’s and the woman’s.
Central Asian Expedition Hall.
The Central-Asian expedition became the main accomplishment in Nicholas Roerich’s life. With his wife and his son, he covered 25 thousand kilometers, two deserts and surmounted 35 neks. Nicholas Roerich created more than 500 paintings, wrote such books as “Altai-Himalayas” and “The Heart of Asia”, and collected enormous scientific material. During this period Nicholas Roerich created the famous series of Himalayan sketches. Perhaps, no artist could depict mountains like Nicholas Roerich, who won the title of Master of the Mountains.
The Hall of Kullu.
The hall of Kullu transfers us to a sacred valley of India where the Roerichs settled in 1929. There they founded the “Urusvati” (in Sanskrit – the “Light of the Morning Star”) Institute of Himalayan Studies. In the Institute there were opened departments of natural sciences and Tibetan medicine, history of Asian peoples’ culture, philology, botany and astrophysics. The paintings by Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerichs are exhibited in the hall. Antique bronze from the family collection occupies a special place in the hall.
Helpful in experiencing the beauty of the valley are the photographs by Lyudmila V. Shaposhnikova, arranged in the form of a frieze around the hall’s perimeter.
The Hall of the Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace.
At the turn of the XIX – XX centuries Nicholas Roerich arises the question of cultural heritage protection. The Roerich Pact – the first international agreement on preservation of artistic and scientific institutions and historical monuments – was signed by the USA and the countries of Latin America on the 15th of April 1935, Washington. The Pact’s ideas became the basis for the Hague Convention on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, adopted by UNO in 1954.
Nicholas Roerich designed the symbol of the Banner of Peace.
Historical documents, photographs and exhibits depict Nicholas Roerich as an outstanding public figure, who raised the Banner of Peace – the Banner of Culture above the Earth.
Svetoslav Roerich’s Hall.
Svetoslav Roerich was an outstanding artist, scientist and public figure, spiritual successor and continuator of his father’s work.
Portraits, landscapes, genre and epic canvases, paintings with philosophic contents – all the artist’s pieces carry to people love and beauty, awake hope and happiness.
“Let’s carry the news of beauty to every heart, every house. Let striving for the beautiful become our everyday prayer… Search for beauty – this is what will bring people together and save the world. At the difficult moments of life, one should think of beauty.”
These words belong to Svetoslav Roerich and express in the best way the thoughts and ideas of the great Roerich family.