Supported by The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
Supported by The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation




Documentary photography


Katherine Campbell-Stibbe archival fund in the State Museum of Oriental Art

In the second half of the 1970s, Katherine Campbell-Stibbe, an American citizen and the vice-president of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, donated a significant Roerich collection to the State Museum of Oriental Art. It included a collection of Roerich's paintings, sketches and studies, objects of fine and decorative art, memorial things, as well as archival documents related to the life and activities of the Roerichs.

In 1924, in New York Katherine Campbell-Stibbe (1898-1996) met Svetoslav Roerich, and in 1929, she was acquainted with Nicholas Roerich himself. From this moment on, she was considered as a friend of the Roerichs and, later, of all the cultural institutions that they founded in America. In the 1930s, Katherine Campbell-Stibbe became one of the closest confidants of the Roerichs and defended their interests in the United States after the break of the Roerichs and Louis Horch, a financier and the president of the museum's director board. After the Second World War, Katherine Campbell-Stibbe provided financial support for the purchase of a building for the Nicholas Roerich Museum, opened in 1949 in New York. She had also actively bought Roerich's works, appearing on the American art market.

In the second half of the 1970s, after a wide celebration of Nicholas Roerich centennial jubilee in the USSR Katherine Campbell-Stibbe donated part of her Roerich collection to the Soviet Union. This collection was deposited in the State Museum of Oriental Art. Along with the works of fine and decorative art, it included archival materials, collected by the Roerichs, some of their personal items and archival materials that previously belonged to the great Roerich Art Museum in New York until its liquidation in 1936.

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Most of the documents that were part of the gift of Katherine Campbell-Stibbe, presented in English and only a small part are in Russian.

The first group includes materials concerning the activities of the Roerich Museum, as well as cultural institutions under it (the Master Institute of United Arts, the Music School founded by the spouses Maurice and Sina Lichtmann, Russian immigrants, who later became vice-presidents of the Roerich Museum; and the "Corona Mundi" International Art Centre, etc.). Numerous documents give an idea of emergence and formation history of the Roerich Museum in New York (1923-1936). Among the documents, there are annual and financial reports on the activity of the Roerich Museum. First of all, these are letters from the president of the museum Louis Horch and his wife Nettie Horch to the Roerichs, as well as Horch's handwritten diaries and reports for the first half of the 1930s. Unique documents recreate the chronicle of activities of the Roerich Museum. They help to restore the chain of events that led to the liquidation of the first Roerich Museum and its cultural institutions in the United States. Along with official reports, letters and telegrams of the museum staff, the archival fund has a selection of newspaper articles in English and Russian of 1920s and 1930s, representing important events in the cultural life of the USA and the Roerich Museum.

Among the materials of different kind, it is important to highlight a significant volume of letters from Esther Lichtmann to Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena. Esther, a journalist and Maurice Lichtmann's sister, worked in the Roerich Museum. Her letters mostly refer to the first half of the 1920s and to a lesser extent – to the early 1930s. She described in details the activities of the Roerich Museum, the formation of its exhibition, in particular the Hall of Helena Roerich opening (1924), as well as the work of cultural institutions, e.g. "Corona Mundi" where the executive director was Svetoslav Roerich, Nicholas' youngest son and a talented young artist. While speaking of Svetoslav Roerich, we should note that only few biographical data describe the early creative period of this future master. Thus, Esther Lichtmann's letters are an important documentary source.

The second group is a compilation of documents relating to the international treaty on the protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historic monuments during armed conflicts, which was proposed by Nicholas Roerich himself. The document, known as the Roerich Pact, was signed by the countries of North and South America. The archival fund contains a photograph, representing signing of this international document in Washington in April 1935. It shows the very procedure of signing the agreement by the US Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace in the presence of the then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this group, the original letter of Roosevelt (at that moment, the Governor of New York State), addressed to the Roerich Museum, is of particular importance.

Among key historical documents, it is also essential to note a typewritten copy of Nicholas Roerich's letter to the King Alexander of Yugoslavia, an active associate of the Roerich Pact promotion in Europe. It is known that Roerich and King Alexander corresponded each other until the death of the monarch in 1934.

The third group consists of documents relating to two expeditions of Nicholas Roerich to Central Asia (1925–1928) and the Far East (1934–1935).

The most valuable document collection refers to the Tibetan stage of his expedition in Central Asia (1927-1928). The caravan of travellers travelled in harsh winter conditions for five months. It was finally detained by Tibet authorities on the outskirts of Lhasa (near the village of Nagqu). The head of the expedition intended to inform the Tibetan authorities about the plight of the expedition, and undertook numerous attempts to contact the 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet in Lhasa, the prime minister of Tibet, the commissioner of Chor destrict and local governors. However, all efforts to establish a connection with the outside world turned out to be fruitless. Roerich sent three letters to the Dalai Lama (dated October 28, November 8 and November 14, 1927). In the first two of them, on behalf of the head of the Union of Western Buddhists, he explained the purposes of the Mission and reported on the plight of his caravan. In the third, he blamed the Tibetan ruler of being inhumanly cruel towards "Western Buddhists". These letters and other documents relating to the expedition form an important and interesting section of the archive collection.

This archival collection also contains materials relating to the second expedition under the leadership of Nicholas Roerich. It was organized by the US Department of Agriculture in northern Manchuria and Inner Mongolia in 1934 and 1935 in order to collect seeds of drought-resistant grasses. The expedition intended to collect samples of these plants able to survive in the American prairies, suffering from drought and hurricanes in the early 1930s.

We should pay the greatest interest to the letters of Nicholas Roerich and his eldest son George, an orientalist (1934), written during their expedition: starting from Seattle, an American city, from where the Roerichs went to Japan by sea, and ending in Harbin, from where the Roerichs headed to Manchuria. These letters, addressed to the staff of the New York Museum, are, in fact, diaries of the Manchu expedition.

During his stay in Manchuria, Nicholas Roerich established contacts with representatives of Russian emigration in the Far East; lectured in Harbin, where the expedition headquarters was located for about half a year; engaged in charitable work in the emigrant environment. All the activities of the head of the expedition were reflected in his expedition diaries, written in the first stage in the form of letters to American employees (1934) and then in the form of classical diaries (1935). Thanks to these documents, it becomes possible to recreate a whole image of the life of this artist and scientist, which is still little studied.

Far Eastern expedition materials are supplemented by letters of Nicholas Roerich to numerous emigration figures collaborating with the artist in Harbin, Tianjin and Shanghai. Namely, he engaged with Vladimir Roerich, Vasily Grammatchikov, Alexander Fridlander, Grigory Chertkov, Edouard Anert et al. They significantly expand our understanding of the artist's diverse activities in Russian China.

This section also includes correspondence with Georges Chklaver (1897-1970), the secretary of the French Roerich centre in Paris, an international lawyer as well as the Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace figure. It is known that in the late 1920s he was one of the main developers of the Pact text, actively worked on its promotion in Europe, lectured on the Roerich Pact and Nicholas Roerich's activities.

It also is necessary to pay attention to George Roerich's letters. The eldest son took the most active part in the expedition to the Far East. His letters complement his father's correspondence and create a more comprehensive image of the entire expedition.

The fourth group is represented by so-called "Minutes of Meetings" (1930s), that were actually held for employees of the New York Museum (including those held with the participation of the Roerichs). The minutes of meetings reflected multifaceted work of the staff of the Roerich Museum and numerous cultural institutions as for exhibition organization, lectures, and charitable activities aimed at developing the museum. This group also includes official museum memorandums and photocopies of Helena Roerich's letters to various addressees.

Buddhism specialists would be interested in a hand-written list of items. It was made by a famous Russian orientalist Alexei Pozdneev, concerning the collection of Oriental art, and found in personal papers of Nicholas Roerich, also interested in Buddhist art. In this context, Nicholas Roerich took part in the construction of a Buddhist temple in Petrograd.

The total volume of this fund is about 10 thousand sheets.