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Master Of The Mountains: Himalayas Through The Eyes Of Painter Nicholas Roerich

Master Of The Mountains: Himalayas Through The Eyes Of Painter Nicholas Roerich

Roerich's works have not only inspired a search for spirituality in the depiction of the Himalayas, it has also created a legacy of artists who have continued the Russian master's quest.

A painting by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich
A painting by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich

Nicholas Roerich not only travelled across the Himalayas but also painted over 500 paintings that depicted the enigmatic and the subtle spirituality, tranquillity and harmony of the mountains.

Their solemn, majestic, mighty essence and significance for humanity is a symbol of purity, which is the highest aspiration towards beauty and knowledge. He also painted monasteries, monks and local architecture, flora, fauna and folklores of the region. Looking into his paintings, therefore, is like understanding the culture that lives in these Himalayan ranges.

One of my favourite paintings is “Koksar Camp, the oldest place in Lahaul”. Koksar village is the gateway into Lahaul and the coldest place in the region. Drawn inexplicably to the vast mountain ranges of the Koksar Valley, the painting is so rich in both form and colours that the viewer is transported to the valley. The division of space, majestic peaks and houses are given a dramatic, mystical meaning. The tiny people and tents add life to the work.
Roerich painted fine hues and tones of the mountains and their ethereal transparency. His love for the Himalayas is truly depicted in his works. Their splendour, with vivid yet subtle colours -- a touch cubist in approach -- depicts these mountain ranges with all their tonalities which he could fathom. This became his distinctive style, inspiring generations of artists, such as Bireswar Sen.

Sen was well versed with the Bengal School of art, when he decided to paint the Himalayas after his encounter with Roerich in 1932. Sen made numerous miniature paintings in watercolour, depicting the Himalayas. These are now considered as national treasure. That he drew inspiration from Roerich can be witnessed through one of his works.

The monumental expanse of the snow-laden mountains is beautifully depicted in this work with a subtle inclusion of tiny human figures at the centre, which add to the limitless nature of the peaks. While composing his great Himalayan series in Lucknow, Sen met with another pioneer of the Bengal School of Art, Asit Kumar Haldar. As we all are familiar how art can be a very contagious activity, these artists, through their numerous discussions regarding their work and style, might have, in the process, influenced each other.

One example is the work “Srijnana (Atisa) Dipankara crossing Tibet,” 1952. The painting uses the distinctive style of Roerich in the treatment of the mountains. But there's also his treatment of the human form, which is clearly drawn from the Bengal School of Art.

Yet again we see another great master Sanat Kumar Chatterjee, who was the student and the adoptive son of Haldar. He too drew inspiration from the works of Bireswar Sen. Among his numerous works, his Himalayan series which consisted of compositions in watercolour, portrayed the majestic mountains which have an overwhelming vista stretched into the distance. The artist’s son (this writer), under his father’s tutelage as well as through the observation of Roerich's works when he first visited Naggar in 1993, drew inspiration from the same style and composed various series portraying the Himalayas.

The artist’s quest to find mystical sensibility and spirituality continues through his various creations and depictions of the Himalayas. The artist has explored and depicted various hues of blue in this particular work. As a practising artist, I try to instil and inspire in my students the same qualities which have been taught to me and I have observed some, who are treading in my footsteps as well. The greatest appreciation of a work of art in my opinion is when a young artist draws inspiration from another and tries to seek and portray the same spirituality through his creations.

Through the above-mentioned works, we witness familiarity yet originality at the same time. Thus, through their creations we can observe how these artists from different generations have borrowed from each other over time.

(Him Chatterjee is a Shimla-based artist and chairperson at the Department of Visual Art, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. Views expressed are personal)

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