The International Center of the Roerichs/Nicholas Roerich Museum is situated in the heart of Moscow, within five minutes walk from the Kremlin. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is located nearby, as well as the Pushkin Museum of Arts. These three attractions of Moscow have their own separate histories.
The most unusual history is shared by the International Center of the Roerichs. It starts in the 16th century, when Fyodor Lopukhin , the father of the first wife of Peter the Great, built a luxurious estate with a winged mansion here. The times and the customs changed, along with the estate's owners, but the stone buildings of the 16th century still remain. After the revolution of 1917, the Lopukhin estate was used for housing, and as an office building. The architectural masterpiece became neglected and dilapidated. We don't even know, whether it would have survived the times, if not for Svyatoslav Roerich, a true man of art. Long time ago he promised his parents that he would transfer all of the family archives, all the manuscripts, books and the works of art, from India back to Russia. In order to house the future museum, the Soviet authorities offered him a few old estates for his choosing. He picked the Lopukhin estate.
The Roerich family is very unique on the Russian and the world's cultural scene. Nicholas Roerich was born in St. Petersburg, in the family of a public notary. His father wanted him to continue the family business, but young Nicholas dreamed of a completely different path. He mixed his lectures in the Law School with the studies at the Academy of Fine Arts. The art won over the sense of filial duty to continue his father's business. His first experiences with art were inspiring. His thesis work, a painting called "The Herald", was bought by the famous Russian art collector Pavel Tretyakov, when Nicholas was still a 23 year old student.
Nicholas Roerich wrote many works. He also participated in various contemporary art projects. He made a number of paintings and mosaics for various Russian churches. He also organized art exhibitions and archeological expeditions. Nicholas Roerich happily married a girl from a good family, which belonged to the Russian intelligentsia. He and his wife had two sons, Yuriy and Svyatoslav.
The diverse talents of Nicholas Roerich were clearly seen in his works for theater productions. Nicholas Roerich decorated the famous parts of Sergei Diaghilev's Les Saisons Russes, such as "The Polovtsian Dances" scene from Borodin's Prince Igor, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Maid of Pskov, and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring ballet.
Thanks to his wife, Helena Roerich, Nicholas got acquainted with great Indian thinkers, such as Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, as well as with the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore. Also, they studied the Upanishads together. Nicholas Roerich's knowledge of the eastern philosophy was reflected in his works. His early works concentrated mainly on the ancient pagan Rus. In his paintings, like The Construction of the City, The Idols, and The Visitors from the Overseas, Nicholas Roerich painted colorful folk characters, epic images, and the greatness of the elements of nature. Since the mid-1900s, however, India and the East took the predominant role in his paintings and literary works.
The life of the 40 year old artist Nicholas Roerich was set and stable. He was a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and a principal of the Women's College of Architecture. It seemed, nothing can change the course of his life, until he found out that he had pulmonary disease. Upon the doctors' recommendations, Nicholas Roerich and his family moved to Finland. Because of Finland's proximity to St. Petersburg, he could still visit the city often, and do his usual business there. But after the revolution of 1917, Finland declared independence from Russia, and closed its eastern border. Nicholas Roerich and his family ended up abroad, cut off from the motherland. But the artists don't recognize any borders. His personal exhibitions were held in both, Sweden and Finland. He was also elected a member of the Art Society of Finland. His paintings sold well.
After that, the Roerich family moved to England. Nicholas Roerich had personal exhibitions of his paintings in London, in places like the Goupil Gallery, the Worthing Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He got acquainted with the cultural elite of the time. Upon the invitation of Dr. Harshe, from the Chicago Institute of Art, the Roerichs went to the United States in 1920, for an exhibition tour. They ended up staying in the US for three years. Nicholas Roerich's life was full not only of art, but of educational activities as well. While in America, he painted a series of paintings called Sancta (The Saints), which brought him a worldwide fame. Upon the initiative of Nicholas Roerich, an International Art Center called Corona Mundi (The Crown of the World) was opened in New York. The center was supposed to strengthen cooperation between scholars and artists of different countries. Roerich also published a book of his poems called The Moriah Flowers.
It seemed that his life became stable again. But in 1923 the Roerich family moved to Europe. From there they went to India. He and his wife dreamed about India for a long time. This was the beginning of a new stage in life for the Roerichs. It is impossible to tell everything in detail in the frame of this article. Nicholas Roerich personally knew the well-known Indian philosophers, scholars, writers, and public figures. Among them was the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, the future Prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi. Later on, she wrote, "I remembered Nicholas Roerich as a man of huge knowledge and life experience, as a man with a great soul and penetrating, observing eyes."
He continued to work on a series of paintings called The Himalayas. The series consisted of more than two thousand paintings. For Nicholas Roerich, the mountains served as a source of a deep and constant inspiration. The art critics noted a new direction in his works, and they called him "the master of the mountains." While in India, Roerich painted new series called Shambhala, Genghis Khan, Kuluta, Kulu, the Sacred Mountains, Tibet, the Ashrams, and many others.
But let's go back to our museum in Moscow. The names of Nicholas Roerich, his wife Helena, and their two sons, Yuriy and Svyatoslav, are engraved with gold letters in the annals of the world's and Russia's cultures.
The Roerichs did a lot of evolutionary activities under the guidance of the spiritual gurus of India, who are revered as the Mahatmas, the Great Souls, and the Great Wise Men, who possess knowledge of cosmic proportions, and have an expanded consciousness. The Roerichs created a philosophy of cosmic reality, called the Living Ethics. They organized a grandiose Central Asian expedition. They also opened the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute. They also wrote The Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace. All of these activities had a profound historical significance for the future of evolutionary progress of the human race. The role of the Roerichs in this process is not yet fully acknowledged. But with every year, the general public becomes more and more aware of their role, thanks to the international scientific and cultural research.
Everyone in the Roerich family left a unique trace in the world's culture. This great family possessed an unusual harmony of spiritual and creative unity. Their unique talents were truly striking. Their thoughts, dreams, and intentions were way ahead of their time. Only now, the humanity is starting to realize the significance of the unparallel achievements of this family. The Roerichs' cultural and social work was done on a planetary scale.
Nicholas Roerich was an outstanding man. He was a painter, a scholar, a scientist, a traveler, a social activist, a writer, and a thinker. His diverse giftedness could only be compared to the giants of the Renaissance period. His artistic and literary heritage is huge. More than seven thousand of his paintings, and a countless number of literary works, are scattered all over the world.
His wife, Helena Roerich, was a Russian philosopher and a writer. A lot of her works of the first half of the 20th century have only know become part of the Russian cultural scene. Many people are trying to find answers to the life's deeper questions in her works.
Yuriy Roerich, the son of Nicholas and Helena, was a renowned orientalist, a linguist, and an encyclopedist of the 20th century. He could speak fluently in more than thirty European and Asian languages and dialects. He was a specialist in the oriental cultures, religions, and philosophies.
Svyatoslav Roerich, their second son, was an outstanding painter, a social activist, and a founder of the Nicholas Roerich Center and the Museum.
Svyatoslav Roerich founded the first cultural institution of a new type in Russia, the Nicholas Roerich Public Museum. The museum was created as a public cultural center, because Svyatoslav Roerich believed that the cultural organizations must always be public, and not supervised by the government. Just as Svyatoslav Roerich predicted, this independent status of a public organization allowed the Nicholas Roerich Center to use new methods, draw a wide cultural initiative, and cooperation with international cultural institutions, without the interference of the government.
The museum contains a precious cultural heritage of the Roerichs. Svyatoslav Roerich passed the family heritage on to the Soviet Roerich Foundation in 1990. Now it is called the International Center of the Roerichs. The contents of the museum are immensely rich in artistic, philosophical, scholarly and scientific works. They present a new, cosmic perspective, which is gaining interest in the world today.
Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, the first vice president of the International Center of the Roerichs, and a director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, plays a huge role in supervising all of the activities of the museum. She was also behind the founding, and the development of the museum. Lyudmila Shaposhnikova is an honorary artist of Russia, an academician, and a trustee and executor of Svyatoslav Roerich's will.
She is an outstanding scholar, and a talented organizer. This is why Svyatoslav Roerich entrusted her with the task of bringing his parents' unique heritage to Russia. Also, it was he, who put her in charge of the museum, and supported her in all of her endeavors.
The International Center of the Roerichs is a true architectural masterpiece of Moscow. It is located in the restored Lopukhin estate, which dates from the 17th century. The main mansion houses the Nicholas Roerich Museum. A replica of a 17th century porch, along with the monuments and sculptures belonging to the Roerich family, present a unique architectural and artistic ensemble. All of the restoration, and other works were done through the help of private donors and many friends of the museum. The government did not fund any of the works, which proves the efficiency and the sustainability of a public funded cultural organization.
The international Center of the Roerichs conducts annual international conferences. These conferences have a high status among the scholars and the general public. Many important problems are discussed at these conferences. The discussions include such topics as the study of the Roerichs' heritage, the forming of a new cosmic thinking, the study of the Living Ethics as a philosophy of cosmic reality, etc.
The International Center of the Roerichs also publishes a magazine called Culture and Time. The magazine publishes articles on the new achievements in science and art, as well as some unique literary works. The magazine also discusses the cultural traditions of the East and of the West, and attempts to reveal the notion of what is culture from surprising and unexpected points of view. The magazine is published four times a year. Every new issue contains very interesting materials pertaining to the problems of the Russian, and the world's cultures. The magazine also publishes regular articles about the works and the heritage of Nicholas and Helena Roerich, and their sons, Yuriy and Svyatoslav. Beauty was the central theme in the works of this notable family. This is why Dostoyevsky's prophetic phrase; "Beauty shall save the world" became the magazine's motto.
A unique bookstore, called the Oasis, is located in the main building of the International Center of the Roerichs. Muscovites and Russians from all parts of the country come here to buy rare books on philosophy, history, and art. Here one can buy books on the Living Ethics, the replica paintings of Nicholas and Svyatoslav Roerich, and of the cosmist artists. The bookstore is getting new items constantly. The International Center of the Roerichs has its own publishing section with a high quality polygraphy. It publishes books on the self-realization and spiritual growth. The bookstore also sells music, as well as oriental decorations, souvenirs, and talismans.
Anyone who visits the Nicholas Roerich Museum cannot help but think about the meaning of life, about his or her place on earth, and about the universe. Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, who was entrusted to make the Roerichs' dream about their museum in Russia a reality, in one of her works wrote, "Nicholas Roerich's approach to science and culture was formed by the qualities which none of his colleagues, even the most talented ones, ever had. This explains why he was a unique historian. Nicholas Roerich was able to make both, his scholarly, and his literary works, alive. This helped to make his artistic works more in line with scientific knowledge, and helped his scientific works to become more esthetic. Nicholas Roerich's works were a synthesis between science and meta-science, which was a part of the human experience throughout the centuries. Only a true master can make the past come to life. Nicholas Roerich was able to grasp and pass on, what we call the spirit of the times.
The mutual contact between times and culture brought a unique quality to Nicholas Roerich's paintings. The science and art intermingled in them to the extent when it was impossible to differentiate between the two. What are Nicholas Roerich's works? Do they belong to art, or to science? The answer is, his works are science that has become art, and art that has become science."
By Natalya Khmelevskaya