Nicholas Roerich

Russian, 1874–1947

Tibet Himalayas, 1933
Tempera on canvas, 29 x 46 in. (74 x 117 cm)
Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York

Growing up in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Nicholas Roerich encountered the country’s leading figures in art and science. He subsequently contributed to the birth of Russian modern art. Like the artist Lawren Harris, Roerich was inspired by Theosophy. He also nurtured a spiritual connection to the Himalayan mountains.

In 1924, the artist embarked on an epic expedition to Central Asia with his wife, Helena (Russian, 1879–1955), a Buddhist scholar. Over four years and 35 mountain passes, Roerich made sketches that resulted in nearly 500 paintings. He also documented the region’s cultural artifacts and tribal customs. 

In Tibet Himalayas, Roerich interprets a mystical Shangri-la  as defined by the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Prayer flags, stupas, and monastic buildings nestle harmoniously among the glaciers. Not rooted in any specific geography, this painting may represent the utopian Shambhala described in Buddhist sacred texts.

James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933), which was adapted to film, popularized this idea in the West. Roerich personally believed in a coming age of enlightenment that would usher in a golden age of peace. He eventually settled in Kullu, Northern India, in view of the Himalayas, which he would paint for the remainder of his life.