(b St Petersburg, 27 Sept. [9 Oct.] 1874; d Nagar, nr. Kulu, Himachal Pradesh, India, 13 Dec. 1947). Russian painter, designer, archaeologist, anthropologist, and mystical philosopher. He was a prolific painter of landscapes and of imaginary historical scenes that evoke a colourful pagan image of Russia's past. They reveal the same feeling for exotic splendour and bold, sumptuous colour that he displayed in his set and costume designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, notably for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (1913), for which Roerich created the scenario with the composer.
A man of immense energy, Roerich combined his career as an artist with one as an archaeologist and anthropologist. In 1925–8 he led a 26,000-km (16,000-mile) expedition in Central Asia, and his investigations still form ‘the bedrock of anthropological studies’ in the region (The Times Atlas of World Exploration, 1991). From 1928 until his death he directed a Himalayan research station in the Kulu Valley in India, and many of his later paintings feature mountain landscapes. He had a deep interest in esoteric religions and the mysteries of nature, and he developed a philosophy in which art should unite humanity. There are Roerich museums in Moscow and New York (he lived in the USA, 1920–3), but the best collection of his work is in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)