Hill of Tara, 1932

Distemper, canvas; 49 х 82 см
Hall 21

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich is one of the most prominent representatives of Russian and world culture: an artist, scholar, traveler, public figure, writer and thinker. In his art, the relation between man and nature has become a sign, a symbol, inspiring new philosophical ideas influenced by the East.

In 1923, Nicholas Roerich arrived in India, with his family, where he started preparations for an archaeological, ethnographical and linguistic expedition into almost inaccessible areas of Central Asia. On completion thereof, in 1928, he founded the Institute of Himalayan Studies, called also Urusvati, meaning “the Light of the Morning Star”, in Sanskrit. In the 1930’s he elaborated on his idea for a special treaty on the protection of artistic and scientific values and historic monuments in times of military conflict or civil unrest – what later on was implemented into the so called Roerich Pact.

The National Gallery owns a collection of 248 works by Nicholas Roerich donated by his son, Svetoslav Roerich. Most of these are landscapes from his Himalaya cycle, produced during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Roerich painted the Hill of Tara in August/September 1932. During that time, he and the members of the expedition he had organized were in the valley of Lahaul, in the Northwestern Himalayas. Those ancient, sacred mountain sites still evoke the names of revered masters and spiritual leaders from Indian and Tibetan past.

In December 1932, the artist sent this and other paintings of his from Nagar, India, to New York, the USA, where it was purchased by Katherine Campbell-Stibbe. She was a close associate of the Roerich family and had brought together a remarkable collection of works by Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich. The painting was first presented in Bulgaria in 1978, and later on Campbell-Stibbe donated it to the National Gallery of Foreign Art.

The title of the painting refers to Tara – a Buddhist goddess whose name is usually translated as “Savior” or “Mother of Liberation”. Tara is an embodiment of great compassion and loving-kindness while her supernatural powers protect from various worldly and spiritual hardships.

The Tibetan lama depicted in the painting is performing a Tantric ritual. He is in the traditional apparel, complete with a monk’s bag and pointed red hat indicating that he belongs to one of the three “old Tibetan Buddhist schools” (Nyingma, Kagyu or Sakya), also known as the “Red Hat sects”. In his raised hands he holds ritual objects – a damaru (drum) and a ghanta (bell). These are used together in Tantric practices and denote the idea for the unity of wisdom and compassion. In front of the lama, there is another ritual object – a trishula (trident) symbolizing the victory over the three worlds and the three times.

Through the symbolism of the figure and the grand mountain peaks in the background, the bluish-mauve coloring and the dramatic rhythm of the volumes, Nicholas Roerich has brought to the fore an exquisite harmony charged with the powerful, throbbing vibration of life itself.

Dr. Lyudmila Klasanova