Roerich was a Russian painter, writer, philosopher, and public figure. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia he lived in many locations around the world until his death in Himachal Pradesh, India. He trained as an artist and a lawyer and was a dedicated activist for the cause of preserving art and architecture in times of war. He earned several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Roerich found early employment with the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. He became a member of Sergei Diaghilev’s “World of Art” society and chaired the society from 1910 to 1916.
Artistically, he made a mark as his generation’s most talented painter of Russia’s ancient past. He also succeeded in the field of stage design, achieving his greatest fame as one of the designers for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Between 1900 and 1910, Roerich developed an interest in eastern religions. The influence of mystical strains of thought can be seen in many of his paintings.
This magnificent work comes from Roerich’s Sancta series. With its lavender colours and symbolic subject matter, it showcases Roerich’s metaphysical style of painting. The work depicts two Russian monks amidst a snowy landscape. A simply constructed wooden monastery perches on the brow of a hill and a docile looking brown bear accompanies the monks as they converse.
In 1922, while in Chicago working on stage designs commissioned by the Chicago Opera Company, Roerich created a series entitled Sancta consisting of six paintings, each beginning with the words “And we ...”. The six works are titled And we are not afraid (1), And we labor (2), And we continue to fish (3), And we open the gates (4), And we bring light (5), and And we see (6).
The clear spirituality of the work seems to relate to the teaching of the Russian ascetic, the Reverend Sergius Radonezhsky, for whom Roerich created a number of other paintings during his life and it is possible that Roerich was home sick for his native Russia.
Tempera on canvas
101.5 × 135 cm; 40 × 531⁄4 in.