4 June 2014 Russian Art Auctions

4 June 2014

Artist Index / Full Catalogue


* 28. ROERICH, NICHOLAS (1874-1947)


Oil on canvas, 105 by 74.5 cm.
800,000-1,200,000 GBP

Executed in 1894.

Provenance: Acquired from Tatiana Roerich, the artist’s sister-in-law, by E. Velichko-Mukhina and S. Mukhin in 1953.
Collection of E. Velichko-Mukhina and S. Mukhin until the 1990s.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert O. Glebova.
Authenticity has also been confirmed by the expert I. Gofman.
Authenticity has also been confirmed by the expert O. Rumyantseva.

Exhibited: K 110-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya N.K. Rerikha i 80-letiyu S.N. Rerikha, State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, October 1984.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, K 110-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya N.K. Rerikha i 80-letiyu S.N. Rerikha, Moscow, State Museum of Oriental Art, 1984, No. 2.
Perepiska N.K. Rerikha s L.M. Antokol’skim (1894–1899 gg.), Moscow, Direkt-Media, 2011, mentioned in the text under correspondence from 1894.
E. Velichko, “O kartine “Voin”, Del’fis, No. 4 (44), 2005, pp. 110–111.

Related literature: For studies of the present lot, see the works on paper archive of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, file No. 2382.

Within the huge legacy that Roerich left, Warrior, from the series “Beginning of Rus. Slavs” has a special place, as an exceptionally rare example of the artist’s early creativity, among his works on the heroic epic theme. This large-scale canvas, conceived and painted by the 20-year old student at the Academy of Arts, became in its way the aspiring artist’s creative manifesto, his vehicle for declaring with utter certainty his interest in the early history of the Russian state, which Roerich remained true to throughout his life.

The whole cycle of Bogatyr images, created over a number of years, embodied reverence for history. The subject matter of these works, inspired by numerous learned articles from the Proceedings of the Russian Archaeological Society (of which Roerich was a devoted reader from a young age) bolstered by Russian epic and embroidered by imagination, became the main theme of the artist’s pre-revolutionary oeuvre. Moreover, Warrior, or, as the artist called it himself, Knight of Pskov, qualifies chronologically as the first among these works.

Roerich conceived the idea for this composition in the early summer of 1894 at the Izvara estate where he had gone for the holidays at the end of the Academy’s academic year. He wrote of his brainchild in a letter to his fellow student L.M. Antokolsky: “...this summer I have decided to paint a large historical study, but what it is shall be my secret”. Nevertheless, after a while the artist decided to lift the curtain somewhat and in July wrote to his friend again: “...this is more of an historical and archaeological portrait, ... I want to show the joy, amid the suffering from wounds, that the city which is home has been saved, but what comes through is only the suffering. It will be called Knight of Pskov. 1581. I shall tell you the overall concept when we speak.”

In all probability the subject of the painting was taken from Russian history and reflects the siege of Pskov in 1581, the central episode in the Livonian War. After his setback under the walls of that city, Stefan Batory, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, was forced to enter into negotiations with the Russian Tsar Ivan IV, which ended in the signing of a peace treaty. The moment chosen by the artist is the culmination of the siege, the appearance of the Mother of God to re-inspire the townsfolk faltering at a breach made by the enemy in the fortress wall.

Roerich had a very responsible and demanding approach to his work on canvas. In the absence of the opportunity to paint from life, he uses the monumental and decorative techniques of late 19th century painting in this composition. He positions the figure of the Bogatyr on horseback in the foreground, frozen solid as it were and sinking under the outstretched hand of heaven. The angle of Roerich’s perspective, from the rear and with the hand thrown up sharply above the head, is unexpected.

The State Tretyakov Gallery holds a sketch on paper of the initial composition of the Knight of Pskov that shows precisely drawn outlines of the steed and rider. In handling the image of the warrior Roerich keeps close to the folk tales, and in this respect he was perhaps the most disciplined successor to the tradition of Viktor Vasnetsov. Like Vasnetsov, Roerich largely sticks to the well-known literary subject matter, striving for accuracy of historical detail and making a study of armour and harness recovered from archaeological digs, but at the same time creating the image of his own revelation, full of underlying symbolism.

The drama he creates is built on the sharp contrast in colour between the grim horseman, the grey stones and thorny, almost monochrome tangle of vegetation at his feet and the fieriness of the heavenly vision. This blaze of red forming a radiance around the divine messenger encapsulates the image of celestial intercession saving Rus, as of old. Roerich employed this device for the first time when working on the Pskov warrior but it was taken into his armoury and used early in the second decade of the century in the flame-coloured halo of Last Angel and mandorla of Queen of Heaven.

Apart from the unique story of the twenty year-old Roerich creating what was really the first full-blown oil on canvas he had produced, Warrior also possesses impeccable provenance. Until the end of the 20th century it was in the collection of S. Mukhin and E. Velichko-Mukhina who had acquired it in 1953, together with another 16 paintings by Roerich, from Tatiana Grigorievna Roerich, widow of the artist’s brother, Boris Konstantinovich.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.