Svetoslav Nikolaevich Roerich (Russian, 1904-1993) Study for Portrait of Nicholas Roerich, 1924 65 x 48.5cm (25 5/8 in x 19 1/8in).

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Lot 64*
Svetoslav Nikolaevich Roerich
(Russian, 1904-1993)
Study for Portrait of Nicholas Roerich, 1924 65 x 48.5cm (25 5/8 in x 19 1/8in).

Sold for £ 31,250 (US$ 40,938) inc. premium
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, USA
Svetoslav Nikolaevich Roerich (Russian, 1904-1993)
Study for Portrait of Nicholas Roerich, 1924
signed with monogram and dated '24' (lower right)
tempera on canvas laid down on board
65 x 48.5cm (25 5/8 in x 19 1/8in).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    Collection of Louis and Nettie Horch, New York
    Acquired from above by the present owner, circa 1977

    The present work by Svetoslav Roerich, depicting a man dressed in Tibetan costume and traditional wool hat, dates to the early period of the artist's career. In the lower right corner of the portrait is his monogram in the shape of a 'scarab' surrounded by three dots and the date '24', for 1924 when the work was completed. During that time the artist was travelling with his parents on an extended trip through India and this period was formative and important for his further development as an accomplished portrait painter. Svetoslav had already proven himself as a talented artist having completed a number of important portraits: a portrait of his father, Nicholas Roerich (on paper), the dancer Albertina Vitak, the philanthropist Louis Horch, as well as historical portraits of King Solomon and Saint Francis of Assisi (all dating to 1923).

    After a year in India, Svetoslav completed dozens of new portraits depicting local men and women living in Nepal and Tibet. The present portrait is thematically and artistically connected to the portraits of the Indian period, but in this instance Roerich did not choose a local 'eastern' type but instead depicted a 'european' type, and it is apparent that the model for his portrait was his father. Presumably, the present work was a preliminary study that the artist completed in preparation for the large portrait of Nicholas Roerich that was never realized. Shortly before his departure for a much anticipated trip to India, Svetoslav wrote: 'my next project will be a large portrait of my father.' [S.N. Roerich, The Letter to Ruth Page, N.d. [August, 1923], New York Public Library, Ruth Page Papers MGZMD-16-23C30]

    Certain compositional characteristics of the present work connect it to an earlier portrait of his father in which Nicholas is depicted as King Solomon (painted in 1923, offered at Bonhams in December 2010). In both portraits, the figures are depicted three-quarter length and turned sideways; the sitter wears an identical hat and seems completely absorbed by his thoughts. Moreover, the sitter's facial features in both portraits are very similar; and that similarity emphasizes that both portraits were thematically connected and were painted within a short period of time, as is indicated by their dates.

    The two portraits share another similarity, the symbolism of colours. Assuming that the depicted man dressed in a traditional maroon robe of a Tibetan lama is indeed Nicholas Roerich, then this assumption can be confirmed by documentary materials. The famous Russian artist arrived in Darjeeling (East India) in January 1924 and ordered lama outfits (the sect of 'red hats') for himself and his two sons. Period photographs show them dressed in similar costumes. It was during this particular time that the Roerich family was intensely following Buddhism and the sitter's downcast eyes and meditative state conform to the Buddhist canon. It is significant that the face in the portrait appears with a bright yellow spot above it surrounded by otherwise muted sombre colours. It appears to be lit from within and connected with the bright opening in the blue sky, showering the figure in sunlight and illuminating it.

    The present lot by Svetoslav Roerich is an early portrait by the artist and most likely is a completed study for the portrait of Nicholas Roerich.

    We are grateful to Dr. Vladimir Rosov, Head of the Department of Roerich Research, State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, for his help in cataloguing the present lot.
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