Nikolai Fechin was a master of genre painting as well as a brilliant portrait painter. His multi-figure compositions include such masterpieces as Bearing Away the Bride of 1908 (fig.1) and Cabbage Butterfly (1909, State Russian Museum). Fechin’s genre scenes are without the social subtext of the Peredvizhniki, but even so these are not just sketches of everyday life. Below the surface of the ordinary the artist draws out the essence of national character. A technique Fechin uses frequently in his works of this genre is to exaggerate and heighten the everyday until it becomes grotesque. This love of the grotesque grew out of Fechin’s early collaboration with the satirical magazines of St Petersburg, which influenced the way he would distort his figures, as well as his quick, nervous, yet precise way of drawing. The central figure of the washerwoman in the present work is a prime example of Fechin’s use of the grotesque, her face deliberately depicted in a free manner; Fechin uses bold brushstrokes for her features but the face itself can still be clearly made out by the viewer with its easily distinguishable details.
Washing clothes is a theme which can be found in Fechin’s work as early as 1906, in his painting Windows (whereabouts unknown). The present painting’s dark colour palette resembles that of Bearing Away the Bride of 1908. It was around that time that the artist was in search of his own style and subject matter and began using casein binders and degreased paints to achieve a matt effect.
We would like to thank Galina Tuluzakova for providing additional catalogue information.