Svetoslav Roerich


Svetoslav Nikolayevich Roerich (1904 – 1993)

“What we notice in Svetoslav’s paintings is the harmonious intensity of all parts of the painting. The great quality of pieces of art, if only indifference did not creep into them.It is wonderful if this high gift is given in life, thanks to it, all the dark, all the miserable turns into the happiness of spirit. And how happily we must welcome those who by the will of fate can bring the beautiful to life!”[1, p.443-444]

N. Roerich

Svetoslav Roerich was born on October 23, 1904 in Saint-Petersburg. This was the city with which the first twelve years of his life were associated. In his early childhood, the boy was already showing an interest for the natural sciences and this was harmoniously interwoven with inborn artistic abilities.

“I was very interested in ornithology, zoology,” Svetoslav Roerich recollected. “Helena Roerich collected for me all the necessary books – whichever ones she could find. She bought us stuffed birds, raised collections of insects, bugs. Besides, I was attracted to beautiful stones, mineralogy. She also collected for me all kinds stones of the Urals and other types.Thus, our little world was at that time saturated with wonderful impressions”[2, p.54]. Svetoslav started drawing at an early age and took up molding, attended classes of the Arts Encouragement Society School, created designs for home theatre productions, and even helped his father in his work on theatre design sketches. In 1913, he entered the Karl May Gymnasium in Saint-Petersburg where he studied until 1916.

From 1919, Svetoslav Roerich studied architecture in London, at the Royal Academy of Arts. After a year, he continued his education in the USA, firstly at Columbia University and then at Harvard University, whilst also attending the Massachusetts University Sculpture Department.

In America, Svetoslav Roerich took most active part in the work of every cultural and educational institutions established by Nicholas and Helena Roerich. At the age of 19, he headed the International Artistic Center “Corona Mundi”, and later became the Vice-President of the New York Nicholas Roerich Museum.

In 1923, Svetoslav Roerich visited India for the first time. There he became acquainted with the most famous architectural masterpieces of Indian culture, as well as with the ancient and modern art of that country. In India, he laid the foundations of his unique collection of Oriental works of art that, unfortunately, went almost completely lost after his death.

S. Roerich. Naggar. 1937 In 1924, S. Roerich returned to the USA and took most active part in the managerial work related to the cultural and educational institutions associated with N. Roerich. Thanks to Svetoslav Roerich, his parents and elder brother ( who were on route in a most difficult Central Asian expedition) he kept in touch with the “external world.” This opened up possibilities for their fruitful scientific and research activities. At the same time, S. Roerich continued to improve his painting skills and worked constantly. In 1925, he received the highest award during an exhibition in Philadelphia, where nearly a hundred of his paintings were exhibited. The young painter’s subsequent achievements became his confident steps on the way to mastery and perfection.

Svetoslav Roerich started his painterly vocation as a portraitist, and reached highest craftsmanship in this genre. A distinctive feature of his creative work was his desire to deeply perceive the character of the man whose portrait he was painting. Svetoslav Roerich pointed out: “We must always remember that a successful portrait is more than just resemblance.” The canvases created by his brush are elegant, laconic, and amazingly precise in conveying the spiritual and emotional image of the person portrayed. That is the reason for the fact that the people reflected in these images look so alive and attractive. He painted about 30 single portraits of his father. One of them was purchased by the Luxemburg Museum in Paris. At that time, S. Roerich was just 35 years old. The gallery of portraits created by Svetoslav Roerich is enormous; especially noticeable among them are the precious images of his parents.

S. Roerich. Portrait of N.К. Roerich. 1934Many features of the artist’s paintings testify to his father’s creative work impact. As S. Roerich himself noted” my art sources are inseparably connected with N[icholas] R[oerich].”[3, p.49] At the same time, while on one hand continuing the tradition of his great father in his painting, Svetoslav Roerich also made his own way. In his pieces, there is no hint of imitation. Each painter, the father and the son, has his own style and his own technique.

Even in the event of a brief encounter with S. Roerich’s paintings, one feels the artist’s enormous creative range: in addition to portraits, he turns to landscape, epic, “of genre”, and symbolic painting. In all of these he shows himself as a virtuoso master and inspired experimenter.

S. Roerich in the upper reach of the Kullu valleyFrom 1931, living permanently in India, Svetoslav Roerich actively participated in its public and cultural life. He loved that country dearly and it became his second Motherland. In many of his wonderful canvases, Svetoslav Roerich sang the praises of India’s unique beauty, diversity of cultural traditions, and subtleness of spiritual achievements. That is why the honor to call S. Roerich its national pride befalls not only on Russia alone, but on India as well.

After 1947, S. Roerich conducted a lot of work related to the signing of Roerich’s Pact by the Indian Government. “I am happy to note that the attitude of the Indian Government towards the aims we keep in mind is sympathetic, and it approves of Roerich’s PactI wish so much now that it be this country and at this time that could become an active fighter for the cultural principles contained in this Pact”[4, p.325-326], S. Roerich wrote to one of the Indian leaders H. Kabiru. Thanks to S. Roerich’s efforts, in August 1948, India signed this document. During the following years, S. Roerich actively participated in the work on the preservation and protection from destruction of the ancient Indian cultural monuments; he organized committees, and urged the Governments of Indian States to take concrete steps in this direction.

In July of 1941, after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Svetoslav Roerich sent a telegram to the USSR Ambassador in London, I. Maisky, about his decision to join the Red Army, but he received a refusal. Nevertheless, during the years of the Second World War, Svetoslav Roerich transferred the funds from paintings’ and exhibitions’ sales to the USSR Red Cross.

Svetoslav Roerich took active part in the work of the Institute of Himalayan Studies “Urusvati”. While he was in charge of work of the Natural Department, he carried out unique researches in various fields of the natural sciences. The gift of spiritual synthesis that he possessed contributed to this end. At the basis of S. Roerich’s natural scientific interests lay his deep philosophic understanding of nature as a whole, inalienably connected with the most important cosmic laws. The circle of his scientific interests is striking: ornithology, botany, mineralogy, Tibetan pharmacopoeia, chemistry and its alchemical sources, astrology, comparative religious studies and philosophy, art studies, cultural studies. Such versatile activities of S. Roerich, the scientist, testify to his undoubted belonging to the galaxy of major natural scientists.

All S. Roerich’s artistic and literary creative work, as well as his scientific, pedagogical, and public activities are inseparably connected with the ideas of the Living Ethics. To say that Svetoslav Roerich was just its follower would be to oversimplify his role. He was not only the follower of this philosophic system, but a profound thinker, who could develop its most important provisions and ideas.

Many of Svetoslav Roerich’s philosophical reflections are dedicated to the great role of art in the creation of a more perfected, high-spirited and virtuous man. These thoughts not only were reflected within the pages of his essays and diaries, but also within the entirety of the painter’s creative and artistic work.

“the truth is in Beauty, one of the Living Ethics books says. Cosmos bases evolution on this formula. Cosmos directs the world to mastering Beauty”[5, 178]. Beauty together with its essence and its role in the evolutionary development of mankind, as well as the energetic processes related to it comprised the bases for S. Roerich’s philosophic views. He himself, as an artist and thinker, was attracted first of all to the Beauty created by man. “Great creations are storages of enormous energies, which can activate and change millions of spectators, influence numberless generations through the message of beauty emanating from them.Inexpressible aura of glory is irradiated by a great piece of art, Svetoslav Roerich said. – This is emanation of concealed vibrations fixed in the structure of a great creation. Magic of feelings, thoughts, and strong desires of great masters is captured in a piece of art, is irradiated on the spectator, and awakens in us similar emotional response, beside purely energetic and spiritual understanding of what is spoken about. We respond to more perfect combinations and call them beautiful.Such is the extraordinary power of art, hidden strength, always present and active in a great creation”[6, p.61-64].

S. Roerich. “Art and Life”. ICR publication, 2004Svetoslav Roerich was convinced that Beauty could not be created without a higher ideal. Destruction of this ideal – spiritual or aesthetic – would result in the disfigurement of life and in the loss of its evolutionary pivot.

All his life he remained interested in the problems of a more perfected upbringing of man. In response to this, the painter took active part in the work of the children’s school of Bangalore (India) established in 1962 according to the teachings of the Indian philosopher Aurobindo Ghosh. Children were accepted in that school from the age of three. The school’s pedagogical conception was based on the moral and ethical upbringing of children according to especially elaborated methods. From a very early age, these children were acquainted with the ideas of major philosophers, including Helena and Nicholas Roerich’s, with considerable attention given to an artistic education. Annual children’s drawing competitions contributed to this.

Svetoslav Roerich noted: “In our pedagogical work in Bangalore, we are trying to lead the new generation along the paths of ascent from the very beginning, give thoughts, ideas of big philosophers from the very early years.Our education must be such, so that when leaving the school the person could be strong, could resist evil, imperfection”[7, p.89-90]. Starting from 1977, S. Roerich supported the school financially.

“the truth is in Beauty, one of the Living Ethics books says. Cosmos bases evolution on this formula. Cosmos directs the world to mastering Beauty”[5, 178]. Beauty together with its essence and its role in the evolutionary development of mankind, as well as the energetic processes related to it comprised the bases for S. Roerich’s philosophic views. He himself, as an artist and thinker, was attracted first of all to the Beauty created by man. “Great creations are storages of enormous energies, which can activate and change millions of spectators, influence numberless generations through the message of beauty emanating from them.Inexpressible aura of glory is irradiated by a great piece of art, Svetoslav Roerich said. – This is emanation of concealed vibrations fixed in the structure of a great creation. Magic of feelings, thoughts, and strong desires of great masters is captured in a piece of art, is irradiated on the spectator, and awakens in us similar emotional response, beside purely energetic and spiritual understanding of what is spoken about. We respond to more perfect combinations and call them beautiful.Such is the extraordinary power of art, hidden strength, always present and active in a great creation”[6, p.61-64].

Svetoslav Roerich was convinced that Beauty could not be created without a higher ideal. Destruction of this ideal – spiritual or aesthetic – would result in the disfigurement of life and in the loss of its evolutionary pivot.

All his life he remained interested in the problems of a more perfected upbringing of man. In response to this, the painter took active part in the work of the children’s school of Bangalore (India) established in 1962 according to the teachings of the Indian philosopher Aurobindo Ghosh. Children were accepted in that school from the age of three. The school’s pedagogical conception was based on the moral and ethical upbringing of children according to especially elaborated methods. From a very early age, these children were acquainted with the ideas of major philosophers, including Helena and Nicholas Roerich’s, with considerable attention given to an artistic education. Annual children’s drawing competitions contributed to this.

Svetoslav Roerich noted: “In our pedagogical work in Bangalore, we are trying to lead the new generation along the paths of ascent from the very beginning, give thoughts, ideas of big philosophers from the very early years.Our education must be such, so that when leaving the school the person could be strong, could resist evil, imperfection”[7, p.89-90]. Starting from 1977, S. Roerich supported the school financially.

S. Roerich near his painting “Kanchenjunga. Secret Hour”. Moscow. October 23, 1984.Svetoslav Roerich is well known as the founder and Honorary President of the cultural and educational Center for the Arts “Chitrakala Parishad” that was established in Bangalore in 1972 and became the local university department.

For outstanding achievements in the field of culture, and for his contribution to the cause of peace, S. Roerich received governmental awards from various countries, including the highest civil order of India “Padma Bhushan”, the Soviet order “Friendship of Peoples” and the order “Madar Cavalryman” established by the State Council of Bulgaria. Svetoslav Roerich was a winner of J. Nehru’s International Award; he was awarded the Knighthood of the Bulgarian Order of Kirill and Methody as well as Honorary Membership of the USSR Academy of Arts and the title of Honorary Doctor of the Velikotyrn University of Bulgaria and of Academician of the Academy of Fine Arts of India. However, Svetoslav Roerich considered the award established by the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York the most outstanding award of his life, since the diploma linked to it had been signed by Nicholas Roerich.

The first exhibition of S. Roerich’s paintings was opened in his Motherland on May 11th, 1960, in the A. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. A month later, the artist’s paintings would be exhibited for the visitors of the Leningrad Hermitage. Starting with the 1970es, exhibitions of his paintings were regularly organized in the cities of the Soviet Union.

In 1989 in Moscow, on Svetoslav Roerich’s initiative, the Soviet Roerich Foundation was established (since 1991 renamed the International Center of the Roerichs), of which Svetoslav Roerich would remain the Honorary President to the present day. In March 1990, acting according to his parents’ will, he passed onto the SRF the priceless legacy of his family – paintings, objects of fine and applied arts, archival material, a library, and personal belongings. All this constituted the basis for the permanent exhibition of the Nicholas Roerich Public Museum, the initiatives of which are based on the principles laid down by Svetoslav Roerich.

S. Roerich passed away on January 30, 1993.

1 N. Roerich. Diary Pages. – М.: ICR, 1999. – V.1. (1931 – 1935). – P. 443 – 444.

2 S. Roerich. Striving for the Beautiful. – М.: ICR, 1993. – P. 54. – (The Roerichs Small Library).

3 Same. – P. 49.

4 S. Roerich. Letters. – М.: ICR, 2005. – V.1. – P. 325 – 326.

5 Endlessness, 178.

6 S. Roerich. Striving for the Beautiful. – М.: ICR, 1993. – P. 61 – 64. – (The Roerichs Small Library).

7 Same. – P. 89 – 90.

International Centre of the Roerichs