In the works of Svyatoslav Roerich, religious motives gradually appear. Beginning was the work of “The Head of the Franciscan Monk” (1923, Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York), according to the artist himself “very expressive and full of life.” Initially, the canvas was for Ruth Page, but when it was finished, the artist refused to send his work to America: “I’m sorry I can not send it to you.” Expectations are not always justified, it turned out to be unnecessarily sarcastic and there is too much life in it. monks literally drill you, and I’m afraid that you will not be able to sleep peacefully, if this portrait is in your house. “
“The head of a monk” may well be regarded as an early self-portrait. Then Svyatoslav Roerich
In the fall of 1923, after visiting Italy, two more religious paintings were written: “Saint Francis of Assisi” (Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York) and “King Solomon” (private collection, Los Angeles). They opened up a whole new perspective. Svyatoslav Roerich intends to create a series of 46 paintings. This is a kind of gallery of portraits of saints and devotees of different religions.
Soon, on November 17, the Roerich family travels to India. Both mentioned paintings along with the baggage are loaded onto the ship. They are needed as guidelines for the creation of the entire artistic series. On the way, Svetoslav Roerich continues to work.
In a letter to the American employee Maurice Lichtman from Port Said, he writes: “I am preparing for my work in India… I am now working on a large suite of paintings, portraits of all the great Saints and Spiritual Leaders.”
This series was to compose a separate exhibition demonstrating the idea of ”uniting religions through art”.
Let us note that religious synthesis in this period is the creative dominant of the whole family. The painting “King Solomon” depicts
Unusually stylistic solution of the canvas: there are elements of theatrical painting – headdress and Solomon’s clothes are richly decorated with decorative elements. In addition, his beard is written in large strokes, which makes it seem like a sculpted sculpted hand (recall, Svyatoslav Roerich studied at the sculpture department of the University of Massachusetts). Theatricality gives the portrait persuasiveness and gives it an expressive power. European painting, since the Renaissance, has repeatedly appealed to the image of the legendary sage ruler. Most of the works of the old masters are plot and do not go beyond the text of the Holy Scripture. And now, several centuries later, in the twentieth century, Svyatoslav Roerich also turned to the figure of the biblical king, choosing the portrait genre. The history of art practically does not know portrait “
Svyatoslav Roerich echoed his father’s thoughts about building the Temple and tried to create a unique series that has no analogues in the art world. Here is an excerpt from his letter to Zinaida Lichtman, also an American collaborator, Maurice’s wife: “It’s good to hear about your work, to hear how to build the Great Temple gradually.” And work is going on all over the world, new cells are everywhere, new workers are emerging. “
Unfortunately, the planned large series of spiritual drivers of mankind has not been completed. It is represented only by the two images of Solomon and Francis mentioned above.