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RUSSIA

The first chapters of your work have already reached me in the Mongolian desert. Although I know that this message will not reach you soon, nevertheless I must write to you.

You feel Russia so deeply and so truly. I have rarely met definitions such as yours. In a vivid mosaic you have molded a many-faceted image of great Russia. And you have done it with magnanimity toward all its parts. You expressly crossed upon benevolent milestones. Only good signs denote the right path.

You say: "Russia is not only a state: It is a super-stale, an ocean, an element which has not yet been fully formed, which has not yet reached its own predestined shores. It has not as yet begun to sparkle in sharpened and faceted concepts, in its individuality, as a rough diamond sparkles in the jewel. It all still is forebodings, fermentation, endless strivings, and limitless organic possibilities.

"Russia is an ocean of lands swinging over an entire sixth part of the world and holding within its spread wings the East and West.

"Russia is seven blue seas, mountains crowned by white ice; Russia is a furry bristle of endless forests, carpets of wind-swept and blooming meadows.

"Russia is endless snows, over which are singing deadly silver storms and on this background the kerchiefs of Russian women are glowing vividly, snows from under which dark violets and blue snowdrops come forth in tender spring.

"Russia  a land of unfolding industrialism of a new type as yet unheard of, as yet undefined.

"Russia  a land of fabulous, richest treasures, which are hidden in her deep bosom until the destined time.

"Russia is not one race alone  therein lies her strength. Russia is a union of races, a union of peoples speaking 140 languages; it is a free collective, unity in diversity, polychromic, polyphonic.

"Russia is not only the country of the instantaneous present. It is a country of the great past, with which it is linked indissolubly. In her sunny birch groves even today rites to ancient gods are performed. In her frontier forests even to this day sacred oaks and cedars rustle, ornamented with fluttering bunting. And before them are placed offerings, pitiful clay bowls with gruel in them. Zhaleiki1 are mournfully crying over her steppes in honor of ancient gods and heroes.

"Russia is the land of Byzantine domes, sounds of bells, and blue incense borne from the great, dead heiress of Rome  Byzantium, second Rome. And they give to Russia inexpressible beauty, superimposed upon Russian art. Russia is a powerful, crystal waterfall, streaming bow-shaped from the abyss of time into the abyss of times, uncaught as yet by the frost of narrow experience, sparkling in the sun with rainbows of consciousness, sounding throughout the world with a powerful affirmation of Pan-Slavic being.

"Russia is grandiose, unrepeatable".

"Russia is polar. Russia has a mission in the new era".

"Russia is the only country in the world which through its greatest festival glorifies the affirmation of life, a festival of resurrection from the dead, rejoicing at the dawn of a blossoming spring day, with the lights of religious processions beneath the fiery amber brocade of the morning sky."

Is it not strange that in my letter to you I am quoting your own words? But these words are so true, so heartfelt, so beautiful, that I would like once more to live through the images created by them. They must be not only realized but also loved. The more we absorb them, with all their sounds and colors, with all the hieroglyphs of existence on our minds, the more will truth be revealed; and it is so needed. So urgently needed.

In your further survey of the structure of Russian original art you justly mentioned V.V. Stasov2. And together with you I once again in thought paid a tribute to his memory. It was he who, so to speak, introduced me for the first time to the treasure house of the Public Library. He introduced me to the treasures of this storehouse and supported me in my first calls pertaining to Russia.

I remember my correspondence with him. I always wrote him in the style of ancient Russian epistles, and he always rejoiced that the style and manner were as of old. Sometimes he replied to me in the same true style. And at times he laughed good-naturedly saying, "Although your yellowed epistle smelled of fresh coffee, its spirit remained Russian, really Russian." I remember his article about my painting "The March" in which he understood so well my anxious and fundamental striving. Kurbatov had our photograph taken at his famous desk in the Public Library, covered with books. When you quote Stasov I recall vividly the Public Library and those fine, remarkable people who used to come to his hospitable desk. And that same Stasov also took me to visit Leo Tolstoy, after I painted my "'Messenger."

And when you mention Moussorgsky, the uncle of Elena Ivanovna3, you awaken in me the life of all those related to and linked with our great composer. The tragedy of Moussorgsky's life was also a true Russian tragedy. May be I have already told you when we met that in a certain country estate, because of ignorance, many manuscripts of that great creator were burned.

I do not remember whether we spoke with you about the family of Rimski-Korsakov, about the members of the renowned group of artists  the Powerful Kutchka  and about the Peredvizhniki4 with whom I often met. Kuinji, Shishkin, Repin, Surikov, Nesterov, the brothers Vasnetzov   all this was dear to me and instructive. You also recall correctly the attacks on everything national. Whereas precisely because of its national character the art of Russia was so valued in the West. It would seem that this vivid example known to all should have been a sufficient reprimand for all those who attempted to divert the powerful river of Russian creativeness into an alien channel. You truly understand the words of Stasov, "Every nation must have its own national art, and not drag itself on the coat tail of others, upon a trodden road, at someone's bidding." There was no condemnation of foreign creativeness in these words. Stasov was a truly cultured man to say this; but, as a sensitive critic he understood that the Russian essence will be much more valued if it is molded in its own beautiful forms. And Russia does give the most beautiful and the most penetrating images. The told and untold, the written and unwritten, as in ancient synodics5 the majestic images remain unuttered. In this inexpressibility is contained that hidden national, undrained chalice which .you sense so heartily.

I hope that your future chapters, even if slowly, will also reach me and bring still more joy. You remember my painting, "Three Joys": a wandering dulcimer player tells a villager a story about three joys  St. George himself takes horses to pasture, Nicholas the Miracle Maker himself safeguards the herds, and Elijah the Prophet himself begins to reap the rye. I do not know where this painting is. In the book by Ernst there was a small reproduction of it. All kinds of unexpressed joys live in the heart.

Tonight a strong frost and snow struck accompanied by a storm. It got cold in our yurts, even the watch stopped.

And in the morning the radiant sun shone in the literal sense, and all the hillocks and mountains sparkled white, pink, and blue in a sudden snowy adornment. The surrounding country, viewed from the steps of the former temple, reminded me of two of my paintings. One from far-off Karelia, and the other from the Tibetan Chantong. The very same hills were in my painting of the year 1915, "The Calling One." All calls pertain to the very same thing. The majesty of open spaces is one. Thank you for your word about Russia, which is so close to my heart.

Tzagan Kure

April 26, 1935

1 An ancient folk wind instrument.

2 Vladimir Vasilevich Stasov, renowned music and art critic.

3 The wife of Prof. Roerich.

4 A Traveling Exhibition in 1871 started an entirely new artistic movement, the propagators of which called themselves "the itinerants," Peredvizhniki.

5A Russian word for a list of names of the dead to be read during a memorial mass.

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