Lot 39
  • 39

Nikolai Fechin

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
3,650,900 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Nikolai Fechin
  • Portrait of Nadezhda Sapozhnikova
  • signed in Cyrillic t.l.
  • oil on canvas


The artist
George A. Hearn (1835-1913), New York, acquired at the Carnegie exhibition in 1910
The Notable Art Collection Formed by the Late George A. Hearn, 26 February 1918, lot 168
William S. Stimmel, Pittsburgh, acquired for $1,325 at the above sale
Mrs John Burnham (Catherine Wheeler Burnham), Rancho Santa Fe, California, until 1964
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California


Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Fourteenth Annual Exhibition, 2 May - 30 June 1910, no.81
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Founder's Day Exhibition. The Private Collection of Mr W.S. Stimmel, 25 April - 25 June 1918, no.18
Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum, Exhibition of Russian Painting and Sculpture, 1923, no.77
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Special Exhibition Paintings by Nikolai Fechin, 18 December 1923 - 20 January 1924, no.7
New York, Arden Gallery, Paintings by Nicolai Fechin, 29 January - 20 February 1924, no.3
Boston, Robert C.Vose Galleries, Exhibition of the Latest Works of Nicolai Fechin, 21 January - 6 February 1926, no.9
Seattle, Frye Art Museum, Nicolai Fechin, 26 March - 9 May 1976
Montana, Montana Historical Society, A Centennial Exhibition, 15 June - 16 August 1981
Oklahoma City, National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, Fechin Retrospective, 13 September - 17 November 1991
Seattle, Frye Art Museum, Nicolai Fechin, 2 February - 19 May 2013


Catalogue of the Fourteenth Annual Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute, 1910, no.81 illustrated b/w; listed as Portrait of Mlle. Lapojnikoff
'International Exhibition at Pittsburgh', American Art News, vol.VIII, 7 May 1910, mentioned in review
'Our International Exhibition of Painting', The Craftsman, 7 July 1910, vol. XVIII, no.4 illustrated b/w on frontispiece; p.426 listed
'Pittsburgh', American Art News, vol. VIII, no.33, 16 July 1910, mentioned in review
Catalogue of Founder's Day Exhibition. The Private Collection of Mr W.S. Stimmel, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute, 1918, illustrated b/w; no.18 listed as Portrait of Mlle. Lapojnikoff
Estate sale catalogue The Notable Art Collection formed by the Late George A. Hearn. Merchant, Art Patron and Benefactor of New York City etc., New York: American Art Galleries, 1918, no.168 listed and illustrated b/w
P.M. Dulsky, Nikolai Ivanovich Fechin, Kazan: Gosizdat, 1921, p.16 illustrated b/w
Exhibition catalogue Exhibition of Russian Painting and Sculpture, New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1923, illustrated b/w; no.77 listed as Mademoiselle Lapojnikov
Exhibition catalogue Special Exhibition Paintings by Nikolai Fechin, Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1924, illustrated b/w; no.7 listed
Exhibition catalogue Paintings by Nicolai Fechin, New York: Arden Gallery, 1924, no.3 illustrated 
J.Jellico, 'Nicolai Fechin', Artists of the Rockies and the Golden West, Summer 1981, p.74 illustrated
M.Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin. San Cristobal: Fechin Art Reproductions, 1999, p.13, fig.13 illustrated
D.S. Atkinson, San Diego Museum of Art: Selected Works, San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 2003, p.178, fig.178 illustrated
G.Tuluzakova, Nikolai Fechin, St Petersburg: Zolotoi vek, 2010, pl.16 illustrated; p.473 listed
G.Tuluzakova and D.Porter, Nicolai Fechin: 1881-1955, St Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2011, p.53
G.Tuluzakova, Nicolai Fechin. The Art and the Life, San Cristobal: Fechin Art Reproductions, 2012, p.162 illustrated
J-A.B. Danzker, Nicolai Fechin, Seattle: Frye Art Museum, 2013, pp.12-13
G.Tuluzakova, Nicolai Fechin, London: Unicorn Press Ltd, 2013, pp.36-37, no.36

Catalogue Note

The year 1908 was of crucial importance to Nikolai Fechin, a final year student at the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts. Following the departure of Ilya Repin from the Academy in 1907 his students were left without a mentor and, as Fechin himself recalled in his autobiography (1953), this turned out to be a defining moment: ‘Throughout the whole of my schooling I did what I saw others doing, in no way did my technique differ from theirs. Now, as we were without supervision … and there was no one to praise or criticise, I began to experiment for the first time, and that same winter my technique changed radically.’ In 1908 he created two indisputable masterpieces: the portrait study Lady in Lilac (fig.3) and Bearing Away the Bride (fig.2). From this moment, one can talk of Fechin as a fully-fledged artistic personality.

In 1908, Fechin accepted a part-time position teaching painting and drawing at the Kazan School of Art, a decision made all the more easy by the school’s offer to provide him with a studio in which to work on his final year piece. One of his first students was Nadezhda Sapozhnikova (1877-1942), who came from a wealthy Kazan merchant family and had already received a musical education before her enrolment at the School in 1904. The teacher-pupil relationship quickly turned into a friendship, helped by the fact that Sapozhnikova was four years older than Fechin. In 1908, Nadezhda agreed to pose for him resulting in the creation of this, his third masterpiece.

Portrait of Nadezhda Sapozhnikova is exceptional in its virtuosity. The large-scale portrait, in which the inevitably static nature of a seated figure is transformed into a dynamic whirlwind, depicts the explosive energy of youth. The subject of the skittishly inclined young woman determines the diagonal construction of the composition; the precisely marked rhythms of the turn of her head and the emotive gestures of her magnificently modelled hands; the considered but seemingly spontaneous alternating between light and dark within the limits of a very refined, muted palette of browns and ochre, running the gamut from black to white and interspersed with glimmering flashes of blue. What sets the painting apart, is the juxtaposition of different textures, the combination of brilliant academic draughtsmanship with the no-less brilliant freedom of the paint application. Unique to the portrait is the exposure of the creative process, the ‘unfinished’ finish, and the way the individual elements which makes up the image seem to pulsate with life. The playfulness in technique is echoed in the playfulness of the sitter’s costume. Sapozhnikova is dressed according to the fashion of the 1840s and holding a fan, but there is no sense of the nostalgic mood of the World of Art movement. The model is no apparition or dream; there is real blood in her veins. Costume is merely used to break the banality of the everyday, art is able to embellish life, but not replace it.

The present lot was one of two paintings shown at the International Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1910, Fechin’s debut in the United States. The two paintings hung side by side with works by Claude Manet, Camille Pisarro, Alfred Sisley, Gaston La Touche and other renowned masters. Reviewers of the exhibition commented: ‘Nikolai Fechin’s portrait of M-lle Sapozhnikova outshone all the other portraits in this hall. Rarely does the American public have the opportunity to see a painting that has so much individuality and character… It is hard to give such deep and expressive work and impeccable technique of the kind that manifests itself in Fechin’s paintings, the praise it is due.’ (Evening Post, New York, 1910, p.7). There was a fierce battle to acquire Portrait of Nadezhda Sapozhnikova which in the end was won by George Hearn, the biggest New York collector of the time. In 1913, after Hearn’s death, a part of his collection was sold at auction which is when William Stimmel acquired the portrait of Sapozhnikova for his own collection.

Nadezhda Sapozhnikova was a collector and patron who not only studied under Fechin, but also in the studio of Kees van Dongen in Paris. When the outbreak of the First World War prevented Fechin from exhibiting in European and American exhibitions, Sapozhnikova began to commission paintings from him. And so it was at her request and in her studio that the portrait of her niece Varia Adoratskaya (fig.5) was painted in 1914, which became the most recognisable image of the artist’s Russian period.

Sapozhnikova was evidently unable to forget her portrait of 1908. Eight years later, Fechin painted two variations of the large-scale composition in which she is depicted in the same dress, holding the same fan (figs.7-8).

We are grateful to Galina Tuluzakova for providing this catalogue note.