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The Magnificent Art of Nikolay Fechin

Nikolay Fechin: Self-Portrait (After 1948)
Nikolay Fechin: Self-Portrait (After 1948)

Of Russia it has been said, "The Russian people and Russian culture are the linchpin, the glue that binds together this unique civilization." What President Vladimir Putin must have meant in saying this, is that Russian art and culture are no so difficult to understand as some would suggest. Exotic or common his or her origins, any artist of Russia is only a picture window for the soul of this magnificent country to be seen through. Such is the interesting case for Russian-American icon Nikolay Fechin (1881 - 1955).

Nikolay Feshin: A Portrait Of V. I. Lenin (1918)
Nikolay Fechin: A Portrait Of V. I. Lenin (1918)

Born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, Nikolay Fechin was the son of accomplished icon maker, Alexandrovitch Fechin. Attending the Kazan School of Art from 1894 until 1901, his love and talent for creation promoted him naturally to the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy, where he was taught by Russian master, Ilya Repin. Fechin was an almost immediate success once his first works appeared in America in 1910 at the International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. At the time the young Fechin was thought of in the same sense as his contemporaries Claude Monet, Pisarro, Gaston Latouche and others. Later on, it was author Frank Waters who wrote of his sense of art:

"How they shout and sing! No man has this intensity of color. We can equal his masterful craftsmanship. Whatever his subject, Fechin's work is stamped with his immediately recognizable style."

Nikolay Feshin: Taos leader (1927-1933)
Nikolay Feshin: Taos leader (1927-1933)

As Repin's most influential student, Fechin along with John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, and Anders Zorn, represent contemporary impressionists perhaps more than any others. His techniques, and his overall approach to painting, stand out as iconic examples of the perfected use of color and the palette knife. The artist, it is said, would use anything at his disposal to create the effect he was seeking to achieve. This is readily conveyed in the magnificent examples of work you see on this page.

Nikolay Feshin: portrait of a ballerina V. P. Fokina (1925)
Nikolay Feshin: portrait of a ballerina V. P. Fokina (1925)

Fechin was well respected in Russia, and was even commissioned to paint a portrait of V.J. Lenin in 1918. Soon, hardships befell many when the Bolshevik Revolution caused thousands to flee the country. Taking his wife Alexandra, and daughter Eya, to the United States in 1923, Fechin was assisted by two of his American patrons to settle in the country. The family journeyed first to New York, then later settled in Taos, New Mexico, owing to the artists bout with tuberculosis while at the New York Academy of Art. Fechin joined a small artist colony in New Mexico, and later purchased a house in the middle of seven acres adjoining the Indian reservation nearby. It was here his most striking portraits were created, inspired by the Native Americans he was so fascinated by.

Nikolay Feshin: the Mexican cowboy (1934-1955)
Nikolay Feshin: the Mexican cowboy (1934-1955)

New Mexico proved a treasure trove of subjects for the genius Fechin, who reveled in his art the vibrant hues used by the native people nearby. Later, the artist even traveled to Mexico, where he turned to sketching in charcoal, pencil, and pastel the faces of the people he encountered. It is in these sketches that his mastery is revealed in total. The combination of forceful and intense coloration, with a vivid understanding of form, manifested itself in a truly marvelous artist.

Fechin moved to California after a divorce, and he lived there until his death. His ex-wife and daughter still live in the house in Taos. In 1981, Eya Fechin formed the Fechin Institute, a non-profit, educational organization headquartered in the home. An extensive collection of his work can still be admired in their home, however, the largest collection of his works is held at the Fechin Center in Kazan.