Born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia to an elite family, he lived around the world until his death in Punjab, India. Trained as a lawyer, his interests lay in literature, philosophy, archaeology and especially art.
He first visited New York City in 1920. After touring the United States, he and his wife settled in the city, founding the Master Institute of the United Arts, They also joined various theosophical societies and their activities in these groups dominated their lives.
After leaving New York, Roerich toured Asia, settling in India in 1929 where he founded an archaeological research center, the Himalayan Research Institute. In 1929 Nicholas Roerich was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the University of Paris. His concern for peace led to his creation of the Pax Cultura, the "Red Cross" of art and culture. His work in this area also lead to the United States and the other twenty members of the Pan-American Union to sign the Roerich Pact on April 15, 1935. The Roerich Pact is an early international instrument protecting cultural property. It was also Roerich's suggestion that the U.S. dollar bill contain the Great Seal of the United States known for the depiction of the Great Pyramid on the obverse of the Seal.
Today, the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City is the artistic center of Roerich's work. Numerous Rerikh societies continue to promote his theosophical teachings worldwide. His painting can be seen in several museums including a collection of his works in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.