Capturing Roerich's artistic and spiritual journey.

“Roerich is searching the soul of the mountains in his paintings.” National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) director Rajeev Lochan's father had once responded thus to a query posed by an adolescent Rajeev as to why Nicholas Roerich only painted mountains. While he was selecting works for “Nicholas Roerich: An Eternal Quest” — the exhibition put up on the occasion of the state visit of Vladimir Putin — the statement kept ringing in his ears. “And that's how we culled out 75 works from the vast collection. I searched for such paintings of his. Read the titles of his paintings ‘Dreams of Wisdom', ‘Secret Signs'. They are so pointed. It was a pointed dialogue with himself. Roerich didn't paint for the world but himself,” says Lochan with a wide grin.

The Himalayan landscape quenched Roerich's artistic thirst by offering elements of great design, beauty and aesthetics, but on another level, it appeared to him as the abode of spiritual wisdom. That it must have been a deep meditative act becomes apparent from looking at his paintings. Mountains in every possible hue — magenta, green, orange, blue — in different time periods, a star-studded night, a bright morning or blazing daytime, are present in his tempera-laden canvases. They glow with an ethereal light that emanates from within.

Sharugon Monastery in Tibet between the Himalayas and a flowing river, the black rock in the foreground bearing “Om”; an ascetic seated on narrow cliffs in ‘Ecstasy' or a monk patting a bruised deer in ‘A Scene of Compassion', or works from his Shambhala series, created during his Central Asian expedition, fill up the section devoted to his time spent in and around India.

But the segment throwing light on the years before the Russian artist, writer, lawyer, humanist, ethnographer and philosopher came to India is what Lochan is really excited about, for this assortment of 40 works, he says, “has come to India for the first time ever.” The works have been loaned from The International Centre of The Roerichs, Moscow.

Language of birds

Terming the earlier works “his evolution” and those made in India “his achievement,” Lochan points out the “Language of Birds” from his wisdom series for its strong Indian influences. The works executed during the Russian period which lasted 42 years have more human figures as compared to the canvases from his time in India.

The mountainscapes bear the influences of European art. The two bodies of work employing a vastly different language speak of the personal journey of transformation. A collection of memorabilia inspired by Roerich's works, like bags, paperweights, mug sets and hair clips, etc. is available at NGMA's art shop.

(The show is on till April 11)

THE ARTIST'S TRAIL

Nicholas Roerich arrived in India in 1923 and settled down in Kullu valley where he died in 1947.

In 1925, Roerich undertook a three-year Central Asian expedition which took him through Tibet, Kashmir, Xinjiang Province in China, the Russian Altai Mountains in Siberia and Mongolia. A Chinese governor had put the group under house arrest for four months.

In 1928, Roerich founded the ‘Urusvati' Himalayan Research Institute.

To protect cultural heritage and other important buildings from the ravages of war, Roerich drafted the Roerich Pact which was signed as a treaty in the White House in the presence of then America's President, F.D. Roosevelt in April 1935.