27 May 2012
Mountain of Light, signed.
Oil on cardboard, 67.5 by 76 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, USA.
Exhibited: Probably Amaravella Exhibition, Corona Mundi Art Centre (The Roerich Museum), New York, 1927.
Mountain of Light is an outstanding example of the early work of the Cosmist artist Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky. It is most probably one of the two works chosen by Nicholas Roerich for the 1927 New York exhibition that he organised under the auspices of his Corona Mundi art centre. Roerich’s main aim in organising the exhibition was to focus attention on the art of young Russia and the Russian artists’ works were indeed widely reported in the American press. One of the reviews mentions this particular picture, as by “another very gifted artist, Boris Smirnov, whose paintings Tree and Mountain of Light are simple and dramatic and have an inner depth that draws the viewer in”.
Exceptionally gifted even as a child, Smirnov-Rusetsky began painting at the age of fifteen. His uncle, the celebrated art historian Alexander Pavlovich Ivanov, exerted a strong spiritual influence on the young artist and introduced him to his good friend Roerich. Although he studied under other outstanding artists at VKhUTEMAS, which he entered in 1926, it was Roerich whom Smirnov-Rusetsky considered his primary artistic mentor and it is Roerich’s influence which is present in the work now offered for auction.
Mountain of Light is characteristic of the Amaravella group, of which Smirnov-Rusetsky was a member. The exotic and poetic name of this group, formed by six artists in 1927, is of Sanskrit derivation. Although the word does not have a single, clear translation, this unusual cipher has variously been interpreted as “the light that supports”, “creative energy”, “green shoots of immortality” and “the brink of immortality”. But most important of all were the distinctive creative attitudes and world view of the members of the Amaravella group. Their goal was to express in the language of art the philosophical essence of new scientific discoveries about the life of the universe: about the mysterious interrelation between cosmic rhythms and the Earth, about the place of man in the universe, about the creative evolution of reason, about death and immortality. The major stimuli to their quests were Roerich’s various activities and the seeking of Eastern thinkers and mystics.
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