Fechin was immediately drawn to America’s blossoming art scene, taking part in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, the Milch Gallery, the Grand Central Galleries, Arden Galleries, The New York National Academy of Design, Voss Galleries in Boston and The Institute of Art in Chicago. Fechin’s interest in landscape and still lifes was stimulated by summer trips to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and Southern California, but portraiture remained his principal genre. Despite the received wisdom that portrait painters work mainly according to commissions, Fechin was a portrait artist by instinct and would very rarely accept commissions while he lived in Russia. He liked to choose his own sitters – people who interested him, particularly creative people, including his students, friends and colleagues from the Kazan School of Art. Naturally, those close to him were frequently asked to pose, including his father, his wife Alexandra Nikolaevna and their daughter Eya, who was born in 1914.
In New York he tried as much as possible to preserve this accustomed manner of working and would frequently invite painters and artists to sit for him, both Russian émigrés and Americans. These portraits were invariably exhibited soon afterwards. He painted Alexandra Nikolaevna and Eya often, just as he had done while the family lived in Russia. Among his many studies and finished works, the double portraits of his wife and daughter hold a unique status. At least five double portraits are known to exist and of these, three were painted in New York: Mother and Child (1923), Summer (Portrait of Alexandra Fechin with Daughter Eya, 1924, fig.3), and the present lot - Mrs Fechin and Daughter (1925). These three works can be considered among the best paintings of Fechin’s American period. When Summer was submitted to the International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1926, it was awarded a large silver medal.
The offered work is thought to be the last in this series of double portraits. It has remained in a private collection for decades and has been exhibited rarely – indeed, possibly only once, in the 1981 Montana exhibition. The composition is distinctive: the still life in the foreground takes precedence over the figures behind; the depiction of the two sitters is fragmented, interrupted by the edge of the canvas, the table and samovar, and yet the composition is unified and conveys a sense of completeness. Fechin blends a still life with a genre scene but ultimately the painting remains a portrait. The complex technical elements are all executed superbly, from the combination of different painterly textures, the manner of conveying various different materials, the varying depictions of light, featuring highlights, reflections, and transparency, the balance of static and dynamic, calculated and spontaneous. Mrs. Fechin and Daughter is a stunning work of an undisputed maestro.
We are grateful to Galina Tuluzakova, author of the 2007 monograph on the artist, for providing this catalogue note.
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