Review: The Nicholas Roerich Museum

“When humanity is possessed by the devils of malice and mutual destruction, every token of affirmativeness and mutual help is especially valuable.” Nicholas Roerich.

On the north side of 107th Street, one building east of Riverside Park, stands the Nicholas Roerich Museum. The house is its own work of art. Paintings and artifacts decorate the walls and stairways of the three floors that are open to the public.

Roerich was a painter, philosopher, writer, archeologist, stage designer, and firm believer in the power of art and spirituality to cure the plagues that have infected humanity, in his time and ours. His spiritual curiosity was sufficiently diverse that subjects of his paintings include Mohammed, Elijah, The Mother of the World, The Spirit of the Himalayas, and St. Francis of Assisi. The building was once home to his Master Institute of United Arts and now serves as a gallery for over 150 of his paintings as well as hosting a regular schedule of concerts and poetry readings. It also includes a small bookshop where I picked up a copy of his book The Invincible for $4.

With his wife Helena, he founded the Agni Yoga school of mysticism in 1920. They also traveled extensively through Asia, including a 1934-35 expedition through Manchuria, sponsored by the US Dept. of Agriculture which was headed by Henry Wallace who would go on to become FDR’s vice-president. The purpose of the expedition was to collect seeds and they collected over 300 species, as well as uncovering important ancient manuscripts. 

A view up the stairwell

Roerich’s belief in the power of art led him to develop the Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments, also known as The Roerich Pact. From Wikipedia:

The most important idea of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity.

He was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize in 1929, 1932, and 1935.

As the man’s art, both paintings and writings, can speak eloquently for themselves, the following are examples of both. 


Tibetan Lakes

A bird flying over the water lightly touches the calm surface, and long afterward the forms which before had been beautifully reflected will be atremble.

Lord of the Night

On the physical plane everything can be exhausted, but on the spiritual plane at the base of everything lies inexhaustibility. And it is by this measure that the two planes are primarily divided.
Mother of the World

In addition to many other kinds of contagions, epidemics of madness frequently appeared upon various continents. Whole countries suffered from the intrusion of malicious ideas into various domains of life. Naturally, these epidemics broke out especially frequently in the spheres of religion, superstition, and within the bounds of official suspiciousness.


Most Sacred (Treasure of the Mountains)

Great faith is laid into creativity. Since ancient times the paths of art have been sanctified. On these paths mutual understanding and friendship remain steadfast.



Precisely now, when the contemporary way of life strives toward brevity, abruptness, and chance, it is especially essential to aspire to evaluations based upon the entire oeuvre.


Star of the Hero

The great elders, hermits, and dwellers in caves knew unerringly where the heart is, how to treat it, and how to evoke its benevolent action. What a wonderful word – Benevolence!

One final note on these paintings – photography does not do them justice. They should be seen on the walls of the museum, among themselves. The Nicholas Roerich Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 12-5 and on the weekends from 2-5. Closed Mondays. Admission is free, donations accepted. 

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