Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)

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Lot 30* W
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich
(Russian, 1874-1947)
'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed

Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947)
'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918
signed with artist's monogram and dated '1918' (lower left), affixed with 'Property of Master Institute of United Arts, Inc.' label, inscribed in pencil with 'N 67', '120' and additional numbers and markings (on verso)
tempera and oil on canvas
154.3 x 129.4cm (60 3/4 x 50 15/16in).

Estimates available upon request


  • Provenance
    Painted in Sortavala, Finland, 1918.
    Roerich Museum, New York, 1923-1935.
    Nettie and Louis Horch, 1935–1971.
    Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA, 1971.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1990.
    Property from an important private American collection.

    London, The Goupil Gallery, Nicholas Roerich, Spells of Russia, 1920.
    Worthing, The Publi Art Gallery, Nicholas Roerich, Spells of Russia, 1920.
    New York, Kingor Galleries; Boston, Boston Art Club; Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery; Chicago, Art Institute; St Louis, City Art Museum; San Francisco, Museum of Art; Omaha, Fine Arts Society; Kansas, City Art Institute; Cleveland, Museum of Art; Indianapolis, Herron Art Institute; Minnesota State fair; Milwaukee, Art Institute; Detroit, Institute of Art, and elsewhere, The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition, 1920–1923.
    New York, Roerich Museum, 1924–1935 (permanent exhibition).

    Nicholas Roerich, List of Paintings 1917-1924, MS, Nicholas Roerich Museum Archive, No 2 in the year 1918, listed as 'Предстоящий столпник.'
    Nicolas Roerich, Spells of Russia, The Goupil Gallery, London, 1920, cat. no. 120, listed as 'Ecstasy.'
    Nicolas Roerich Spells of Russia, The Public Art Gallery, Worthing, 1920, cat. no. 90, listed as 'Ecstasy.'
    Christian Brinton, The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition, Redfield-Kendrick-Odell Company, Inc., New York, 1921, no. 22, listed as 'Ecstasy', illus. pl. 8.
    Frances R. Grant, et. al, Roerich, Himalaya, A Monograph, 1926, p. 196, listed as 'Ecstasy.'
    Roerich Museum Catalogue, Eighth Edition, 1930, p. 12, no. 22, listed as 'Ecstasy.'
    Nicholas Roerich, Zurich, Agni Publishing House, 2008, illus. p. 219, no. 255.

    In the difficult years preceding the Revolution of 1917, Roerich retreated into the remote isolation of the Karelian countryside, where he continued his spiritual journey and artistic growth. Present monumental masterpiece, painted in Sortavala in 1918, is one of the most important works of that period and arguably one of the greatest achievements of his entire artistic legacy.

    During the Karelian period (1916-18), Roerich withdrew from civilization into the magnificent northern landscape, discovering a profoundly spiritual experience and finding a new artistic direction. As the artist wrote in his autobiographical novel 'Flame':

    One can hardly find the same cheerfulness and energy that the North gives you... When a person finds himself in nature, he is like a child. A child sometimes sees a nightmare, but it is enough for him to open his eyes to find himself in Paradise again... I feel enough energy to begin a new chapter in my life. Nothing concerns me anymore and my past is not bothering me... My sight is set on the future (Nikolai Roerich, 'Flame,' Paths of Enlightenment, New York, 1924, pp. 32-56).

    The painting depicts an emaciated hermit in stoic contemplation: praying stylite amongst an outcrop of rocks. His beard has grown long enough to touch his knees, attesting to the duration of the man's spiritual quest. Though withered, he presents a powerful figure, standing upright and intently staring into the light above. His feet have fused with the rock beneath: the stylite is integrating with his beautiful surrounds and perhaps the Universe above. The monolithic cliffs and rigid rocks that hover in the distance above the figure resemble human faces, implying that his journey is one of thousands in a timeless tradition of sacred contemplation.
    The themes and content of this painting resemble Roerich's own spiritual transformation during this time, as evinced the poem 'Light,' which he wrote in 1918:
    ...Who discovered that, which does not know
    neither form, nor sound, nor taste,
    has no end and no beginning?
    In the dark, when everything
    ceases to be, the thirst of the dessert and the salt
    of the ocean! I will await Thy radiance.
    Before Thy Face the sun does not shine. The moon
    does not shine. Nor stars, nor flames, nor
    lightening. The rainbow does not glow, the aurora
    borealis does not light the north.
    Only Your face is radiant.
    Everything is illuminated in Your light...
    (Nikolai Roerich, Colours of Moria, Berlin, 1921).

    Painted with remarkable precision, this painting brings into focus the artist's command of color and composition. The rich colour palette consists of iridescent, shimmering tones and hues that harmoniously blend together, infusing the work with mesmerizing richness and intriguing depth, and guiding the viewer's eye from the figure in the foreground to the rock formation in the center of the painting and the cliffs in the distance. This masterly effect encourages the viewers' own intimate experience with the painting and perhaps invites them to contemplate their own spiritual journey.

    Writing about her encounter with Roerich at his first solo exhibition in America at Gallery Kingor in the winter of 1920, the vice-president of the Roerich Institute for United Arts in New York, Zinaida Fosdick, left one of the most vivid descriptions of the effect of this painting:

    As I was standing before 'The Treasure of Angels,' 'Pagan Russia,' and 'Ecstasy' – three enormous canvases of supreme beauty and calmness... I could not hear the crowd anymore, it went away and got silent. I was standing face to face with Infinity. It was hard to breathe and tears filled my eyes, and thoughts and feelings filled my heart... (Z.G. Fosdik, 'Meeting with my Master,' My teachers. Meetings with the Roerichs, 1998, pp. 33-39).

    The artist began work on this painting a year earlier, perfecting the composition in 1917 with a pencil drawing, and progressing to a study in color which examined the hermit's body and elements of the surrounding landscape in greater detail. The final painting, with its tighter composition, inner tension and brilliant colors sharpens the tones conveyed in these sketches and brings them to a monumental scale and grandeur.

    Roerich titled his preliminary study Stolpnik (a designation of an orthodox saint who achieved sainthood through a specific type of a long prayer outdoors), but the final version was instead titled Predstoyaschii, literally 'standing before.' After Roerich's emigration the work received the title 'Ecstasy,' which was used when the work was prominently exhibited as a part of Roerich's personal shows in London and New York. Between 1920 and1923, the exhibition successfully toured the United States, with shows in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit and many other cities. From 1924 the painting an honorable place in the permanent collection of then newly created Roerich Museum in New York. In 1935, it was transferred into the possession of the president of the museum, Louis Horch, and in 1971 it became a part of the art collection of the Brandeis University Museum in Massachusetts. Thereafter it was long unavailable to specialist and collectors, carefully preserved and hidden with museums and private collections. Fortunately, this beautiful masterpiece is now back in public view, where it can garner the appreciation and contemplation it so richly deserves.
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) 'The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', 1918 unframed (Estimates available upon request)
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