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Our Forefathers

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich, Russian, 1874 - 1947

Made in Russia, Asia

c. 1911

Tempera on burlap

18 7/8 x 31 1/8 inches (47.9 x 79.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Christian Brinton, 1941

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Trained as an archaeologist, Roerich had a lifelong interest in Russian history and mythology, taking Gauguin’s search for primitive origins to an even more remote past. This painting depicts a panoramic landscape in which a pipe player enchants a group of bears, which, according to Russian legend, are the forefathers of man and woman. Roerich most likely made this painting while at work on the costume and set designs for Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, which was set in primeval Russia and became the sensation and scandal of Paris when it debuted in 1913.