Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nicolai Fechin

Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya
oil on canvas
size unknown
State Art Museum of Tatarstan, Kazan, Russia
Fair use

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, he 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."

Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin (1881-1955) was a Russian-American painter known for his portraits and works featuring Native Americans, the Pueblo, Apache and Navajo tribes.

He was born in Kazan, Russia. the son of an accomplished icon maker, woodcarver, and gilder. At the age of thirteen he attended 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. After graduating with the highest marks from the Academy and traveling in Europe under a Prix de Rome, he returned to his native Kazan, where he taught and painted.

He exhibited his first work in the United States in 1910 in an international exhibition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1911, place of honor in the Annual Winter Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York was assigned to a painting by him, thirty-year old then.

His “savage, splendid, and heterogeneous” canvas displayed a “barbaric mastery of form and color.” Fechin’s early preference for thick layers of color and pigment with very little oil, and a penchant for conflating the real and the abstract, would bring him international acclaim in the first decades of the 20th century.

Fleeing disease, hunger and the turmoil of post-revolutionary Russia, he and his family immigrated to New York, USA in 1923. Here he continued to attract attention. Though his “bold, striking technique” was praised by critics, he developed tuberculosis in New York, and moved West for a drier climate.

In 1926, he and his family settled in Taos, New Mexico, where a small community of artists also made their home. There he became fascinated by Native Americans and the landscape. He purchased a house in the middle of seven acres adjoining the Indian reservation. He spent the next several years handcrafting every viga, corbel, lintel and swinging door and niche for icons. For seven years, he took great delight in the abundance of subject matter the Taos area provided him. He worked with vibrant hues to paint the native people and traveled south to Mexico to sketch in charcoal, pencil and pastel the many faces of its people. (The adobe house which he renovated in Taos is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as the Taos Art Museum.)

In 1933 he and his wife divorced and he returned to New York. 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 Santa Monica. There he taught small groups of students, painted, and happily entertained guests. In 1955 he died in Santa Monica.