A lone scarlet cloaked soldier with spear and helmet stands out in blood red against the peaceful blue terrain in Signal Fires of Peace by Nikolai Roerich Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947). The painting is valued at £800,000-£1,200,000 and is one of the highlights in The Russian Sale at Bonhams, New Bond Street on 4th June.
This early masterpiece draws attention to the early years of Roerich's career. Inspired by the artist's reflections on the events of the Russian Revolution and infused with his characteristic symbolism, Signal fires of peace is arguably one of the most important discoveries of the season. Having been stripped of its original title, the work disappeared for a long time from scholars and collectors. Now the painting returns triumphantly to the art world.
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) painted Signal Fires of Peace in 1917-1918 while in Karelia, a town in Northern Russia near the Finnish border. At this time Roerich spent time in Scandinavia where he was captivated by the beauty of Northern Europe. He studied Karelian-Finnish and Scandinavian legends, drawing inspiration from the harmonious coexistence of people and nature.
In these legends, villages of peaceful people were often threatened by blood-seeking warriors who arrived always on crimson sailed ships. The Viking warriors, returning to the villages after a season of war-mongering by sea had lost all meaningful connection with the homeland.
This formative period in the artist's career coincided with World War I, two Russian revolutions and subsequent civil war. Destruction and social chaos was unleashed on Roerich's country and had a profound effect on the highly spiritual artist at the beginning of his career.
Roerich observed the turmoil from a distance in the peaceful calm of the North. There, he created a series of works unified thematically by the presence of warlike red cloaked riders, military combat scenes and glowing flames. Signal fires of peace is a culmination of this series, being the largest in size and the only work painted on canvas.
Change beckons in Signal fires of peace which captures a mystical blue landscape and civilians in navy compliment, going about their daily chores. One villager waves with open arms at the single red cloaked figure in the foreground. In the present lot, the people living in harmony with nature, and with each other, appear in striking contrast with the messenger in the crimson cloak.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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