FOR THE FIRST TIME, A UNIQUE PAINTING BY NIKOLAI RERIKH WILL BE PRESENTED TO THE WIDER PUBLIC
The unique painting by Nikolai Rerikh, “By the Boundary”, will be presented to the wider public for the first time at a pre-auction exhibition of the Auction House of the Russian Federation. The exhibition will be held at the exhibition hall of the Moscow branch of AHR in Gostiny Dvor from 18 to 26 November 2011. The exhibition will include over 200 works which will be put up for auction in November 2011.
The upcoming auction of artworks and antiques will be the third of its kind and will be held in Moscow on 26 November 2011. Unique works by Western European and Russian artists of the late 19th – 20th centuries, and also items of decorative and applied art, and jewelry will be displayed.
The top lot of the auction is a painting by Nikolai Rerikh (1874 – 1947), “By the Boundary” (1915). Nikolai Rerikh was an outstanding Russian artist, writer, traveler, public figure, philosopher, mystic, scholar and archeologist. He was born in St. Petersburg on 9 October 1874, and was the oldest child in the family of the lawyer Konstantin Rerikh and his wife Maria. He grew up in the favorable environment of a cultured Russian family, and from childhood he was surrounded by people from the world of art and science – writers, artists and scholars, who were frequent guests in the Rerikh home. From an early age, he showed great ability as an artist, and at the age of 16 decided to enroll in the Academy of Arts. His father, however, did not consider art to be a suitable activity for a young man, and insisted that his son follow in his footsteps, and become a lawyer. In the end, a compromise was found – in autumn 1893, Nikolai enrolled simultaneously in the Academy of Arts and the St. Petersburg University.
The end of the 1890s was the time of a heyday for Russian art. In St. Petersburg, the star of Sergei Diaghliev was rising, and artistic groups and unions formed. Diaghilev studied at the University faculty one or two years earlier than Rerikh, and was one of the first to recognize his unique gift.
In 1898, Diaghilev and his fellow-thinkers, with the support of Princess M. Tenisheva, founded the artistic association “Mir Iskusstva” and a magazine of the same name. Although the magazine did not last for long, it was an event in the artistic life of Russia. “Mir Iskusstva” introduced its readers to the latest European art trends – post-impressionism and art modern. Rerikh took part in the publication of this magazine and was a member of the editorial staff together with Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst.
In 1906. Diaghilev organized the first exhibition of Russian painting in Paris. 16 paintings by Rerikh were shown to the European public. In 1909, the premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Ivan the Terrible” was given in Paris, with costumes and set design by Rerikh, and with Chaliapin performing the title role. When he staged the “Polovetsk dances” from Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor”, also with design by Rerikh, Diaghilev laid the foundation for the “Ballet Russes”, which later became famous. The new stars included Pavlova, Fokine and Nizhinsky. Rerikh’s scenography, and the expressive depiction of ancient Russia, became an integral part of the dazzling success of Diaghilev’s first seasons. The culmination of Rerikh’s collaboration with Diaghilev was the production of Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” in 1913.
Rerikh also provided the design for theater productions in Russia. In early 1912, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko invited him to take part in a production of Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt” at the Moscow Art Theater. Prior to this, in 1907, Nikolai Rerikh made several trips to Finland with his wife Elena Rerikh. They visited the cities of Helsinki, Imatru, Savolninna, Lohja and Turku. Perhaps it was the impressions from these trips that helped the artist, who had never visited Norway, in creating the symbolic image of the bleak northern nature. The subtle and profound understanding of the North was embodied in the sketches of Rerikh’s decorations, which were recognized as true masterpieces and went down in the classics of Russian scenography. Although the production as a whole was received very coldly, the decorations based on Rerikh’s sketches were praised enthusiastically both by stern critics and by the public. Audiences were especially taken with the decorations for the final scene, when Peer Gynt returns to Solveig, who was become old and blind after years of solitude and waiting. Rerikh drew Solveig’s lonely house, abandoned among enormous pine trees and snowy cliffs. An echo of the image of this heroine appeared on the artist’s canvases on several occasions.
The significance of this character is enormous, despite the relatively small amount of text that she is given in Ibsen’s drama. Almost nothing happens to the heroine: she promises to wait for Peer Gynt – and waits all her life, until old age. Solveig is the embodiment of a pure soul, female faithfulness personified. Faithfulness that does not depend on time. This expressive image of a woman who waits all her life became one of the repeating motifs in Rerikh’s work.
And it is this image that is embodied in Nikolai Rerikh’s work “By the Boundary”. As there is a pencil inscription on the back of the painting (perhaps by the author) that reads “Gone to the boundary”, the name is evidently not quite correct. However, in all the sources, from 1916 to the present day, the work is known by the name “By the Boundary”. A reproduction of the painting was published for the first time in the album “Nikolai Konstantinovich Rerikh”. In 1916, Russian society celebrated the 25th anniversary of the artist’s creative activity. The “Svobodnoe Iskusstvo” publishing house released a beautifully illustrated volume with articles about Rerikh by a number of renowned critics such as A.N. Benois, A.I, Gidoni etc. According to the book, at the moment of publication the painting was held in the collection of Elena Rerikh, the author’s wife. The work is dated 1915.
In all the subsequent studies of Rerikh’s work, in various catalogues and lists of his works, this work is discussed with a reference to this anniversary album, which was published in Petrograd in 1916, and the reproduction from this album was used. From 1916 until the present day, the location of the painting was stated in the sources to be unknown.
There is also a sketch for this work. It was published in the collection “Rerikh’s legacy”: Works from the international research and practice conference” in 2002. A reproduction of the sketch was given as an illustration to the article by V.V. Petrov “N.K. Rerikh’s works in the Petersburg collection of V.I. Petrov”.
According to the publication, the sketch was approximately dated to 1915, and was part of the collection of the Petersburg collector Vitaly Ivanovich Petrov. From the reproduction of the sketch, it may be confidently assumed that it is a preliminary sketch for the painting “By the Boundary”.
From 1916 until the present day, the painting was held in a private collection in St. Petersburg, did not change owners, was not exhibited and not published. According to the owners’ information, initially the work was purchased at a charitable auction of the Imperial Society for the encouragement of the arts.
In 1906, Rerikh became the director of the Drawing school of the Society for the encouragement of the arts. He was full of resolve to reorganize the Society and save it from the academic mediocrity that it had been stuck in for many years, and introduced a system of artistic education which even by today’s standards seems revolutionary. This system gave teachers the right of free choice of program, and involved instruction in all the art forms – painting, music, singing, dancing, theater, and also applied art – ceramics, porcelain painting and draftsmanship – under one roof.
The outbreak of the First World War caused enormous upheaval in all groups of Russian society. Public organizations organized collections of donations, and set up wards for the injured in their buildings. A number of patriotic initiatives were put forward by the Society of encouragement of the arts and by Rerikh personally. Among other things, he proposed to organize auctions of art works at the buildings Society, and donate the sums raised to a Committee to assist the injured. The first auction was held on 1 October 1914. In total, 7 major auctions were held from February 1914 to February 1915, at which considerably large funds were raised. The painters gave their paintings to the society as donations to support the injured. The largest sums were raised by the Mir Iskusstva society.
The distinguishing feature of Rerikh’s painting, and an undoubted cause for the hypnotic, entrancing effect that his works have on the viewer are the artist’s unique ability to create an emotionally expressive, spiritually rich and intense image by extremely laconic means.
“…every work by Rerikh amazes by the harmonic combination of all its parts, and this harmony is what makes it so convincing. You cannot take anything away from it or add everything, all is at it should be. There is a harmony of form, colors and mastery of execution, and a gift that is inherent to a great artist. Rerikh’s works are also dear to me by the beauty of the though that is expressed by them in such majestic but simple and sometimes deeply touching images”.
The painting “By the Boundary” is a wonderful illustration to these words by Elena Rerikh. A girl on the edge of a cliff looks into the distance, where the sky and land merge in a blue mist. The lonely figure among the cold northern landscape is tense, facing ahead, and all its being is concentrated in expectation. Even the air seems rich with this expectation. The restrained unity of color only increases the impression made by the vivid image. In his works, Rerikh always focuses attention on the wholeness of the perception of the world, of the unity of the person and nature. Despite the expectation, there is no chaos and unrest in the painting. Solveig is certain that the person will arrive. In the world created by Rerikh, there is an incredible harmony that is supported by the unique gift of the artist in the composition.
*Nikolai Rerikh, “By the Boundary”, 1915
Estimate: $240 000 — 260 000