Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947) The Tower, a stage design for Princess Maleine, 1913 76 x 70cm (30 x 27 5/8in).
Lot 48*
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich
The Tower, a stage design for Princess Maleine, 1913 76 x 70cm (30 x 27 5/8in).
Sold for £ 125,000 (US$ 158,958) inc. premium

Lot Details
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947) The Tower, a stage design for Princess Maleine, 1913 76 x 70cm (30 x 27 5/8in). Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947) The Tower, a stage design for Princess Maleine, 1913 76 x 70cm (30 x 27 5/8in).
Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947)
The Tower, a stage design for Princess Maleine, 1913
signed with artist's monogram (lower left); inscribed with 'N. Roerich' and 'N 23' and '3800' (on verso)
tempera on composite board
76 x 70cm (30 x 27 5/8in).


  • Provenance
    Purchased from the traveling Roerich's exhibition by the Art Institute of Omaha, Nebraska, 1921
    Transferred to the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, 1931; in the collection until 1972
    Acquired from above by a private American collector in Omaha, Nebraska, c. 1972
    Thence by descent

    The Baltic exhibition, 15 May-4 October, 1914, Malmő, Sweden
    The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition, Kingor Galleries, New York, NY; Boston Art Club, Boston, MA; Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute, Chicago, Il; St Louis City Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO; Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA; Fine Arts Society, Omaha, NE (1920-1921)

    C. Brinton, The Nicholas Roerich Exhibition Catalogue, 1920--1921--1922, 1st edition, New York, Redfield-Kendrick-Odell Company, Inc., 1920, listed with correct title as No. 68, pl. 25, illustrated with erroneous title 'Corridor in the castle'
    Roerich, Corona Mundi, International Center, New York, pl .10, illustrated with erroneous title 'Corridor in the castle'
    A. Yaremenko,. Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich. His Life and Creations During the Past Forty Years: 1889-1929, New York, Central Book Trading Co., 1931, pl. 22, illustrated, p. 32, listed with erroneous title "Corridor in the Castle"
    E. P. Yakovleva, 'Teatral'no-dekorativmoe iskusstvo N.K.Rerikha', Samara, AGNI, 1996, page 191

    Nikolai Roerich, a renowned artist, philosopher and writer was an important presence in the cultural life of Russian in the XX century. His unique style and artistic vision played a significant role in shaping one of the most original art movements in Russian history – the Silver Age. This movement cantered around World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) group, which included Nicholas Roerich, played a pivotal role in championing the aesthetics of fin-de-siècle Europe, from Impressionism to Art Nouveau. Together this group proclaimed a preference for 'art for art's sake' and rejected the socially charged content of art works associated with the Peredvizhniki generation. The Silver Age artistic credo was perhaps expressed best by Alexander Benois, who later noted: "We instinctively longed to leave behind the backwardness of Russian artistic life to free ourselves from our provincialism, and to move toward the cultured West, toward the purely artistic quests of the foreign schools, as far as possible from the hackneyed tendentiousness of the Peredvizhniki, from the helpless dilettantism of pseudo-innovators from our worn-out Academism" (E.I.Poliakova,Nikolai Rerikh, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1973, p. 52). During the early years of this movement, Roerich distinguished himself through his innovative and imaginative theatre designs. Among Roerich's early theatrical collaborations was his designs completed for Serge Diaghilev's theatrical productions. Ballet Russes production with their emphasis on supporting new and innovative designs, provided a fitting platform for Roerich's experimentations. Among Roerich's early accomplishments were stage designs for N. Rimsky-Korsakov's Snow Maiden (Snegorochka) for the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1908 and Diaghilev's Prince Igor, Ivan the Terrible, Kitege, culminating with his role as a co-creator in Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. An avid enthusiast of music by Glazunov, Liadov, Scriabin, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky Roerich created designs that reflected his unique sensitivities and understanding of the complex relationship between music and visual arts.

    While Diaghilev saw Roerich primarily as a designer of mostly Russian operas and ballets, others began calling upon Roerich to provide artistic guidance for classical plays and operas based on the Western European cultural heritage. These opportunities perfectly fitted the artist's deep interest in the Western Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. As early as 1905 the artist began exploring a new artistic styles influenced by the European art of illuminated manuscripts, completing a set of meticulously drawn illustrations for the Russian edition of Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's plays. Influenced by the ideas of the pre-Raphaelite esthetic ideologist John Ruskin, Nikolai Roerich became fascinated with the music of Richard Wagner. From 1912 the artist explored these themes in his stage designs for several production of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (1912, 1913, 1921, and 1922). 'If Wagner was the Western European composer whose spirit and thematics found the greatest resonance in Roerich, Maurice Maeterlinck, was the Western European dramatist he felt the deepest affinity for. In the Belgian playwright's highly symbolic, stylized plays, with their suggestion of universal mystery and their medieval settings, Roerich recognized his own vision of Europe' (Jacqueline Decter with the Nicholas Roerich Museum. The Life and Visionary art of Nicholas Roerich, Perk Street Press, Vermont, 1989, page 55). The present work created for the 1913 production of Maeterlinck's Princess Maleine was created for the Svobodnyi Theatre but which was never realized due to the theater's financial difficulties. With some pencil sketches and a few large scale stage sets still in existence, these marvelous works provide a glimpse into Roerich's exploration of highly stylized approach and his fascination with European culture.
    In the work tower's interior is shimmering with rich saturated tones of emerald green. Thick black lines delineate the vaulted ceiling and stone walls. In a small opening in the center, a distant view of a castle is set against an early morning sky. Light emanating from the entrance infuses the scene with mystery and otherworldly beauty. Shadows dance on the walls, shimmering jeweled reflections bounce around the chamber while a mysterious figure seats slumped against the pillar, next to the standing figure of a Princess. The tempera drawing with its soft texture and nuanced deep tonality functions as a mystical backdrop, which reaffirmed playwright's belief in men's powerlessness in a face of destiny. The figures, much like the characters in the play, appear more shadows that heroes - unable to control the flow of events and forced to retreat into their surroundings.
    Painted with remarkable craftsmanship, this work brings into focus the artist's command of color and composition. The rich palette consists of iridescent, shimmering tones and color hues that harmoniously blend together, infusing the work with mesmerizing richness and intriguing depth which guides the viewer's eye from the figures in the foreground left to the luminous landscape in the distance. This masterly effect encourages the viewer's own intimate experience with painting and perhaps invites them to contemplate their own fate and life journey.

    A small drawing from the same production, entitled Garden, was previously offered for sale by Bonhams in June 2014. Three additional stage designs showing Queen's and King's chambers and a View from a Castle's window are known to exist today (Nicholas Roerich, Agni Publishing House, 2008, number 293-295, illustrated on pages 258-259).

    Previously known to scholars exclusively from an old black and white photograph and often incorrectly identified as A Corridor in the Castle, this important early stage design is being re-introduced to the collectors. Hidden from public view since 1970s this beautiful masterpiece is back on the public view where it can receive the appreciation and contemplation it so richly deserves.

    We would like to thank Gvido Trepša, Executive Director of Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York for his kind assistance with provenance research and cataloguing of the present lot.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this lot is being sold subject to Temporary Import restrictions. Please also refer to updated exhibition and publication information for the lot as published in the online catalogue and on the exhibition label in the saleroom.
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  1. Daria Khristova nee Chernenko
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