I became aware of the Russian artist in 2005. His paintings were hypnotic and colorful. Modernist for the time of early 20th Century. I posted many of them on my Flickr site as images that I admired in their strength and power.
But his story was more intriguing than I could ever imagine. His artistry included more than painting. He was an architect, a theatre set and costume designer for the Russian ballet including the infamous Sergei Diaghilev in 1898. He also studied law and history. His painting “The Messenger” 1897 earned him the title of artist securing him a place in the history of Russian art.
But it was an article on the website Atlas Obscura titled “Why the Soviets Sponsored a Doomed Expedition to a Hollow earth Kingdom “. How a search for the hidden land of Shambahala turned into a geopolitical power play. By Dimitra Nikolaidou.
I learned that Roerich was a believer in mysticism and upon arriving in America joined the Theosophy Society. He became famous in his mystical theories and had many important political followers who participated in his teachings in New York City during the 1920s. He and his wife Helena and his 2 sons were eventually sponsored by the U.S. to search for the underground city of Shambahala in Asia in 1923. That expedition would take 5 years and the Roerichs would be followed by Soviet spies as well as British and Mongolian spies in what became the “Great Chase”.
Shambahala was believed to have special weapons that would make the finders able to survive apocalyptic future.
I am not going to give a spoiler alert but Roerich ventured again in 1934 to find the hidden city. Check out Atlas obscura for more. Here are the incredible spiritual paintings that are actually at the Nicholas Roerich Museum (his home) on West 107 th Street NYC.