Roerich's Praying Stylite leads 11 of his paintings at Bonhams

The Praying Stylite (Ecstasy), a recently rediscovered work by Nicholas Roerich considered one of his most important, will lead Bonhams' Russian Art sale on November 26 in London.

The work is an unusually large piece from 1918, painted while Roerich was living in Finland, having escaped the upheaval of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Roerich Praying Stylite
Roerich executed the work in 1918

An artist, philosopher, explorer and writer, Roerich was deeply involved in spiritualism and lived an isolated life in Finland. Amidst the backdrop of the first world war and two Russian revolutions, his work increasingly depicted solitude and nature.

He later found acclaim in America and spent his later years in India, the perfect home for his spiritual ideals.

The work shows an ascetic among the mountains, his legs merging with the rocks at his feet, with a beard that reaches his knees. As Bonhams state, "It is a celebration of the spiritual heroism of the ascetic whose will overcomes worldly vanity."

The piece was featured in a number of exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s, but disappeared after 1935, not resurfacing until the 1970s, when it was donated to the art collection of the Brandeis University Museum in Massachusetts and subsequently transferred to a private American collection.

It has not been seen in public since.

Other works from Roerich include The Offerings at £400,000-600,000 ($640,444-960,666) and The Gates of Tmutarakan at £200,000-300,000 ($320,222-480,333).

"We are thrilled to have obtained paintings from such a varied group of important artists to proffer to enthusiasts during Russian Art Week. We are especially honoured to be able to continue offering masterpieces by Nicholas Roerich, a most fascinating and gifted painter," said Bonhams head of Russian art Daria Chernenko. 

"These eleven of his canvases will become the highlight of the November sale, especially 'The Praying Stylite (Ecstasy)’, one of the most significant works of the artist from his early period. We are expecting to receive a huge amount of interest from collectors and researchers due to the high quality of works offered.”

Bonhams holds the record for Roerich's work, after Madonna Laboris sold at the June Russian Art sale in 2013 for $12.1m.

The highest valued lot of the sale is a magnificent seascape from Ivan Aivazovsky entitled Arrival of the Columbus Flotilla to the American Coast. It was created as part of Aivazovsky being invited to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, at which he exhibited 20 of his finest works as a representation of Russian art.

The piece, monumental in size, is one of five such paintings of the life of Christopher Columbus that Aivazovsky created. It will sell with a £700,000-900,000 estimate ($1.1m-1.4m).

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