Portrait Painter Brian Neher
Nicolai Fechin was born in 1881 in the city of Kazan, Russia, the son of Ivan Alexandrovitch Fechin, an accomplished icon maker, woodcarver, and gilder. At the age of thirteen Fechin was ready to begin his life's work, attending the Kazan School of Art (1895-1901) and then the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was taught by the great Russian master, Ilya Repin. His work appeared in America for the first time at the 1910 International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.
In both western Europe and America, Fechin was greeted with instant acclaim. Among such distinguished contemporaries as Claude Monet, Pisarro, Gaston Latouche, Sisley and John Sargent, he won his first prizes and medals. He was called a "Moujik in art", the "Tartar painter."
Laughing Man with Mustache
Girl holding peaches
Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya, 1914
State Art Museum of Tatarstan, Kazan
From Wikimedia Commons
He was already well known in the States from canvases at American and European exhibitions, as well as sales. His patron Stimmel and John Burnham, the notable architect and a major collector of his work, helped Fechin and his family leave Russia. He soon was commissioned for new portraits and started teaching at the New York Academy of Art. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design, where in 1924 he won the first prize; in 1926 he won a medal at the 1926 International Exposition in Philadelphia. He became well-known for his powerful portraits, which observers said seemed to radiate from the eyes of the subject. Some of his more renowned subjects are Nikolai Lenin, Karl Marx, Frieda Lawrence and Lillian Gish.
Portrait of a Young Woman
Portrait of my father
Frye Art Museum
Hardships following the Bolshevik Revolution eventually led Fechin to take his wife Alexandra and daughter Eya to the United States in 1923. The family first settled in New York but not for long.
Since a child, he had loved the somber forests and peoples near the Tartar border in his homeland. He found their equal in the high pine forests of the Colorado Plateau, the old adobe villages, and the Pueblo, Apache and Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. In 1926 he moved his family to Taos, where a small community of artists also made their home.
The Fechins purchased a two-story adobe house, and spent several years enlarging and modifying it according to designs by Fechin. Changes included adding and enlarging windows, enlarging the porch and making the rooms more open. He also carved doors according to Russian style, created triptych windows, and carved furniture for use in the house, which reflects a combination of modernist, Russian and Native American sensibility.
Fechin seems to have had little in common with the other artists in Taos and almost never socialized with them, though he and John Young-Hunter, who maintained a studio in Taos, remained good friends. Training as well as temperament tended to separate Fechin from his peers. He found it difficult to express himself in English and in particular to talk about art; he believed that what he had to say was nonverbal and best described in his pictures. When he took time off from work, more often than not it was to try his luck at fishing. At such times he preferred solitude to the company of others. Fechin's sojourn in Taos came to an end in 1933 when Alexandra filed for divorce.
Eya in Peasant Blouse, 1933
Fechin stopped working on the house when he and his wife Alexandra divorced in 1933. She lived at the house until her death in 1983. Fechin returned to New York with their daughter Eya for the winter, and she lived mostly with him until her own marriage. After New York, he traveled to Southern California, Mexico, Japan, and the Pacific Islands of Java and Bali. Soon he bought a spacious house in Hollywood, but in 1948 sold it and moved into a studio in Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. There he taught small groups of students, painted, and happily entertained guests.
In 1955 he died in Santa Monica and was buried there. In 1976 his daughter Eya took his remains back to Russia for reinterment in Kazan. The Russian artist Sergei Bongart bought the Rustic Canyon studio where Fechin had lived and painted there until his own death later in 1955. Some of Fechin's paintings and portraits, along with his work table and easel, are on display at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The rest of his works are displayed in different countries, with the largest collection at the Fechin Center in Kazan, Russia. In 1975 the artist/author Mary Balcomb wrote the definitive book, 'Nicolai Fechin'.
Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan
“Fechin was known as the living old master ... an artist's artist. Others called him the Michaelangelo of our time.His talents in so many diverse disciplines was unique indeed --- a master of painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, woodcarving and ceramics.What his eyes saw and his hands touched, became a creative experience. His talents in so many diverse disciplines were unique indeed - a master of painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, woodcarving & ceramics. Nicolai Fechin died in 1955, but his sensitive and dramatic portraits in charcoal and oils are a legacy which stirs the emotions and inspires visions. The insight and warmth he transfered from life to canvas are in this classic volume originally published in 1975, now in its third printing by Fechin Art Reproductions.”
(Written by Mary N. Balcomb, with a forward by Fechin's daughter Eya Fechin, this 167 page volume covers Fechin's life from Russia in 1881 to America in 1955)
Toward the end of his life, Nicolai Fechin was persuaded by his biggest collector and good friend, John Burnham, to have a simultaneous retrospective at the art museums in San Diego and La Jolla. The events were huge successes and a chance for Nicolai Fechin to see paintings he had not seen for many years.
Nicolai Nicolai Fechin Painting Exhibitions & Awards:
1908 First Prize, Imperial Academy of Fine Art, Petrograd
1909 Gold Medal, International Glass Palace, Munich
1924 Proctor Prize, National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1927 Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1930 California State Fair, Sacramento, California
1935 First Prize, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
1936 Medal of Honor, Foundation of Western Artists
1939 Golden Gate International Exposition
1939 Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, California
1930s-1940s Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1968 Maxwell Gallery, San Francisco, California (nicolaifechinpaintingexpert.com)