Many neighbors have some notion about the ever-intriguing Nicholas Roerich, one of our more celebrated residents of days past. Painter, writer, theosophist and philosopher, Roerich was born in 1874 in St. Petersburg and died in India in 1947. But for a brief time in the 1920s, he settled right here on one of our blocks.
Recently, the New York Times reported that Roerich's artwork -- a very particular style -- is fetching princely sums, reaching $12 million and more at auction. His art, it seems, is prized by Russian oligarchs, in particular. While around here Roerich's name is most often associated with the Master Apartments on the north corner of Riverside Drive and W. 103rd Street, it is not his only nearby legacy; we have our own local jewel box of Roerich art. It is the eponymous museum at 319 W. 107th Street. And it is here that our neighbors have their own private stash of his work.
Louis Horch, the financier responsible for developing the Master Apartments, originally conceived the building with a museum dedicated to these artworks. After a falling out between the two men, the work was put into storage until it reemerged as a collection in the W. 107th Street museum in 1949.
Neighbors are often surprised to learn it is there, but residents of the Master, like Mildred Speiser, know the story of Roerich and Horch by heart. Recently, Master residents rededicated a Roerich reproduction in the Riverside Lobby, to mark the 85th anniversary of the building.
You can read more about this in the Landmarks Preservation Commission 1989 report on the Master Apartments. For more about Roerich, his "visions of a forgotten utopia," and his place in our neighborhood's history, see this April 3, 2014, article by Julie Besonen. Check out the new Roerich reproduction in the Master's Riverside Lobby. And don't forget to stop in the museum some day.
By Caitlin Hawke
Update on July 28, 2014: Great footage from within the Roerich Museum may be seen in the first two minutes here in a July 2014 NYC Arts episode.