Inetrnational Centre of the Roerichs

International Non-Governmental Organization | Special consultative status with UN ECOSOC
Associate member with UN DPI | Institutional member of International Council of Museums (ICOM)
Member of pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage EUROPA NOSTRA | Associate member with INTO

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Dear organizers of this exhibition, dear guests,

I am really thankful for your invitation to speak here about the idealist, the artist and scholar Nicholas Roerich. It opens a world for me that was hidden until now. How that has been possible is an other and very interesting discussion.

But ok, here I stand as a colleague of Nicholas Roerich, as an visual artist. Where most people start investigating with reading I start with looking, focusing and concentrating on the artworks.

I was flabbergasted! not only by the number of artworks he had produced but frankly speaking by what I saw. Follow me the innocent spectator.

Bright colors, landscapes in a mystical light. A hunting for a treasure.

What touched me emotionally was a positive atmosphere in combination with what I felt as an invitation. I only came to one conclusion "This man loved the world as a whole". This man believed in something. This man wanted to share that feeling and his vision. I became very curious about what I could find on my way.

A man with a mission and with a fundamental approach. The works were dealing with concentration and a destination far behind the horizon. The loneliness in his paintings stucks me. Seldom do we see a group. Mostly there are no persons at all, or just one. This was an artist with an inner drive who knew what should be done and called to action in a reluctant manner. He was inviting. He ensured in his paintings that there was a goal. The Holy Grail appears in my mind. Intuitively, I start to think of Madame Blavatsky.

Then I start reading. Once again I was flabbergasted! For example:

We all are familiar with the Prince Claus Foundation based in Amsterdam. On a free-lance basis I work for CER, The Cultural Emergency Response program of the foundation. This program provides emergency evacuation, stabilization or the rescue of cultural heritage under imminent threat of destruction or damaged by man-made disasters, natural disasters or conflict.

Regarding culture as a basic need consequently, implies that culture plays – or should play – a key role in humanitarian emergency relief policies and actions.

What Roerich started to realize about 100 years ago was exactly what the Dutch Prince Claus Foundation wanted to achieve with her immediately emergency response. But this program started more or less 12 years ago. Roerich invented the underlying structure and philosophy of such a program more than 100 years ago, and immediately put it into action!! Moreover he belongs to the founding fathers of the Blue Shield.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I felt humble and underdeveloped. How was it possible not knowing about this, nor recognizing the white flag with three red dots somewhere on the website of the Prince Claus Foundation. I used to respond straight away, so I’ve already send the foundation an email about the symbol of the Roerich Pact.

The only traces of Roerich I’ve found in the catalogue of the exhibition The Spiritual in Art, 1890-1985, which was held in 1986 in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. In the catalogue he is mentioned several times. Furthermore there’s some information on Roerich in a dissertation on theosophy and art published in 2006 by the Dutch art historian Marty Bax.

I continued my research and was really impressed by his education and his hunger for knowledge. I noticed in his work a deep interest for archeology. It was clear that he was traveler!

A world of intellect, knowledge and creativity came out of my computer. The thoughts of Ouspensky and Gurdjef, Le Sacre du Printemps with Stravinsky and Diaghilev, what a story! He must have been in contact with the whole artistic and scientific world of that era. That he was inspired by Madame Blavatsky is obvious and fitted perfect in his time. Paul Klee, Gauguin and so many others were inspired by her ideas.

It was the time that artists were working on the visualization of the fourth dimension. Because we own a very important Mondriaan collection just around the corner in the Gemeentemuseum I have to mention this famous artist. Mondriaan and Roerich both were inspired by the Theosophy but they chose complete opposite directions. Where Roerich continued to focus on painting landscapes and figurative images – probably for a far reaching spreading of his message – , became Mondriaan an abstract painter. What most of the people forget is that under the abstract paintings of Mondriaan lies the attempt of trying to make all the spiritual characteristics visual and measurable.

This brings me to Joseph Beuys, a more recent artist, who also was inspired by the theosophical movement. I firmly disagree with one of his famous quotes: “everybody is an artist”. You can say everybody is an artist in his mind. How can we otherwise communicate and how could it than be possible that an artist is understood by his audience. In my opinion a person becomes only an artist by creating things or let things happen! That is exact what Beuys did. In 1982 he planted 7000 oaks at the Documenta in Kassel. And what did Roerich: he painted 7000 paintings! Coincidence or not? I don't know.

We are here in the Peace Palace and we all know that where Carnegie paid for it, Bertha von Suttner was the spiritual mother of this enterprise. What intrigues me is that she lived in the same time as Roerich did. An era in which a major mind shift in society occurred. Bertha von Suttner and Nicholas Roerich lived in the same time but had a different approach. Her statement was disarmament. A century after her death the official politics do not really discuss that item. That means she is still ahead of her time and therefore interesting! She was working for peace.

And Roerich? He believed in a bright future for any human who follows the path of introspection and respect. Is that a main issue on the agenda's of our countries today?

Roerich was working for peace but has chosen a different road. What triggers me is that these two persons, whose respective legacy is now present in the Peace Palace, both lived in the same period which was marked by an important 'shift of mind' in western society. My question is do we live in a comparable situation in this day and age. Can we speak about a radical switch in thinking nowadays and how do we recognize such a process? Taking care of one’s heritage implies the obligation to keep one’s eyes open to the future.

That brings me to my final thoughts:

Here, we’re approaching the world from artistic perspective. But we forgot to give a clear defintion of art. I will make a statement: Art deals only with Dead and Living, Hate and Love. Art deals with the real and fundamental issues concerning all of us. All other things might be respectable but are not the issue. Roerich did as much as he could, as much is possible for a human being to investigate that issue and to communicate that with all of us.

Looking back to my journey with this artist a famous playwright comes up in my mind. I’m thinking of Shakespeare when he stated: "At the end we must conclude that artists are the real witnesses of their time". Roerich focused on new horizons and possibilities for mankind. The scholar in him made that he did that fundamental and precise. The artist in him made that he found a form to show and to communicate. The items he was focused on made that his work could stand the time and kept meaningful for the future.

It was quite a journey but the journey was remarkable.

I consider this journey as a precious and important gift from your very, very interesting and respectable country.

Thank you for that.

Dr. Ingrid Rollema

Visual Artist.