Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936

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Lot 23*
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich
(Russian, 1874-1947)
'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936

Sold for £ 1,314,500 (US$ 1,793,117) inc. premium
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947)
'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
signed with artist's monogram (lower right), verso numbered '22' (middle bar of stretcher), later inscription with artist's name and title (top bar of the stretcher)
tempera on canvas
61 x 153cm (24 x 60 1/4in).


    Purportedly acquired in India from Nikolai Roerich by a private American collector, c. 1936
    Private collection, West Coast, USA
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, c. 1998

    Listed in N. Roerich's inventory of works painted in 1935-1936, published in Tsentr-Muzei N.K.Rerikha. Katalog. Zhivopis' i risunok. N.K.Rerikh, S.N.Rerikh, Yu.N.Rerikh, E.I. Rerikh, Master-Bank, International Roerich Center, Moscow, 2009, vol.1, page 178

    Nikolai Roerich's Kanchenjunga, a remarkable painting executed in 1935-1936, is arguably the artist's most significant depiction of the legendary mountain Kanchenjunga ever to appear on the art market. The subject of the Himalayan Mountain, which for the artist held a special spiritual significance as the holiest of places in the Eastern world, captivated Roerich throughout his career. While he began to paint various smaller versions of the mountain after his first expedition to the region in the 1920s, the present lot is the most spectacular monumental depiction of the legendary mountain range depicting the entirety of Kanchenjunga. All five sacred peaks of the renowned mountain float above blue clouds; their snow-covered summits juxtaposed against a spectacular magenta-coloured background. It is the culmination of Roerich's life's work on this theme, a true showcase of the artist's technical skill and a testament to his lifelong fascination with the mystery and spiritual significance of Kanchenjunga.

    Kanchenjunga captured the imagination of generations of Western explorers, travellers, mountaineers, and writers (Simon Pierse, Kanchenjunga: Imagining a Himalayan Mountain, University of Wales School of Art Press, 2005). In this monumental work, Roerich has imbued Kanchenjunga with all of the spiritual significance attributed to it by visitors and locals alike over the centuries. The pale peaks of the mountain range appear almost mirage-like, visually separated from their bases by hazy, lavender clouds. The mountain acquires an ethereal quality, existing not within the grounded earthly realm, but rather as an embodiment of an otherworldly, spiritual one. Roerich wrote reverentially of the mountain:

    "When we see a beautiful snow-covered peak, we are imbued with the spirit of a holiday, because the worship of beauty is the basis of this sublime feeling. The mountain settlers are able to feel the beauty. They experience the true pride of owning a unique snow-capped giant of the world, clouds, and fog monsoons. Is all of this not just a beautiful curtain covering the great mystery on the other side of Kanchenjunga? Many beautiful legends are associated with this mountain" (Nikolai Roerich, Source of Light. Treasures of the snow).

    The name Kanchenjunga, meaning 'The Five Treasures of the Great Snow', was always known by its original, local name (Simon Pierse, op. cit.). For Roerich, the 'sacred mountain' held a particular spiritual significance. Gazing on its vista from his home in the Kulu Valley, the artist, spiritualist and philosopher believed that Kanchenjunga's great peaks held innumerable mystical secrets. It is therefore no coincidence that Roerich sought a home that allowed him to see such magnificent views of Kanchenjunga on a daily basis. Describing his arrival in Sikkim in 1923, he wrote: "We searched for a house...we wanted something further away...where all the Himalayas could be seen."

    Up until 1852 this five-peak mountain in the Sikkim Himalayas was considered to be the highest point in the world. Kanchenjunga was revered as a sacred space long before Western travellers first glimpsed its snowy peaks. It was believed to be an 'abode of God'; its white peaks, often obscured by clouds and mist, sometimes appeared to exist in a separate celestial realm, contributing to its allure as an otherworldly phenomenon. According to the pre-Buddhist beliefs of the people of Lepcha, the mountain Kanchenjunga was the origin of the people who first settled the Himalayas. Moreover, the mountain itself was sometimes believed to be a 'god' or 'demon', and the Hindu god Vishnu was thought to appear in the mountain in various incarnations (Simon Pierse, ibid.).

    For Roerich, who believed that the Slavic and Indian cultures shared a common origin, Buddhist philosophy held a special spiritual significance. Roerich was particularly interested in the Shambala, which signified a mythical link between heaven and earth and which was thought to be located within a hidden valley deep in the Himalayas (Simon Pierse, ibid.). He wrote of Kanchenjunga, 'There is an entrance to the holy land of Shambala. Through the underground caves amongst astonishing ice caves, only the chosen few in this life reached the sacred place (Н.К.Рерих. Обитель Света. Сокровище снегов). Furthermore, Roerich believed that the sacred mountain was the source of the five spiritual treasures of the world, which would become available to humanity in the most difficult of times. He believed Kanchenjunga would sustain mankind through a spiritual famine, writing: 'He who comes from Kanchenjunga will nourish humanity, not physically, but spiritually' (Ibid, p. 247-248).

    Roerich was clearly fascinated by the mountain Kanchenjunga, painting it nearly forty times over the course of his career, sometimes under the soft light of dawn or dusk, other times during the day. Each of these smaller scenes, however, depicts only limited portions of the Kanchenjunga range. In the present lot, listed as number '22' in a personal record of his work in 1935-1936, Roerich was able uniquely to showcase Kanchenjunga in its grandiose entirety: the only time he was able to do so in his career as an artist. Kanchenjunga therefore is a remarkable depiction of one of Roerich's favourite subjects, an extraordinary manifestation of the artist's technical virtuosity and his legendary spiritual pursuits.

    We are grateful to Mr. Gvido Trepša, Senior Researcher at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York for his assistance in researching the present lot.
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'Kanchenjunga,' 1935-1936
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