Nikolai Roerich


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Russian painter, designer, archaeologist, anthropologist, and mystical philosopher, born in St Petersburg, where he first studied law before training at the Academy, 1893–7. He was a prolific painter of landscapes and of imaginary historical scenes that evoke a colourful pagan image of Russia's past. They reveal the same feeling for exotic splendour and bold, sumptuous colour that he displayed in his set and costume designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, notably for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (1913), for which Roerich created the scenario with the composer. A man of immense energy, Roerich combined his career as an artist with one as an archaeologist and anthropologist. In 1925–8 he made a 16,000-mile expedition in Central Asia accompanied by his wife and his elder son, who spoke Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and several Indian languages; his ‘investigation of the cultures of the region [is] still the bedrock of anthropological studies of Central Asia’ (The Times Atlas of World Exploration, 1991). From 1928 until his death Roerich directed a Himalayan research station at Kulu in India, and many of his later paintings feature mountain landscapes.

Subjects: Art.

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