Lot 116
  • 116

Nicolai Fechin

Estimate
500,000 - 700,000 USD
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Description

  • Nicolai Fechin
  • Indian Girl with Blue Shawl
  • signed N. Fechin (lower right) and titled Indian Girl with Blue/Shawl (on the stretcher)
  • oil on canvas
  • 20 by 16 inches
  • (50.8 by 40.6 cm)

Provenance

The artist
Private collection, Taos, New Mexico
Fenn Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Anschutz Collection, Denver, Colorado, by 1979
Owings Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2003

Exhibited

Leningrad and Moscow, USSR, Cultural Exchange Exhibition, 1976-77
Norfolk, Virginia, Chrysler Museum of Art; Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, American Masters in the West, January-November 1979
Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Museo de arte moderna, 1980

Catalogue Note

Nicolai Fechin painted Indian Girl with Blue Shawl during the years he spent living in Taos, New Mexico from 1927 to 1933, the period considered today as his most prolific and successful. Born in Kazan, Russia, Fechin and his young family immigrated to New York in 1923. After living in Manhattan for three years, during which time he exhibited his work widely, Fechin developed tuberculosis. With his health deteriorating, he was advised by his doctor to seek a drier climate. Fechin and his wife, Alexandra, chose to relocate to Taos, which was then developing into a vibrant artist’s colony, attracting such modernists as John Marin and Marsden Hartley. Although he was initially reluctant to leave New York, Fechin’s creative impulses flourished in the new environment. Whereas, “the city had always depressed and overwhelmed him; here he felt an unusual closeness to the earth. In fact, the whole atmosphere was congenial: abundant sunshine, peaceful, majestic mountains, nourishing rivers and streams…it was conducive to good health and productivity” (Mary N. Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin, 1975, p. 61-2). 

Prior to leaving Russia, Fechin studied at the Imperial Academy of Art in Saint Petersburg where his primary teacher and mentor, Ilya E. Repin, exposed him to the ideas of Impressionism. A celebrated realist painter, Repin embraced the lighter palette and more expressive technique practiced by the Impressionists in the late 1870s, but considered their typical subject matter—sun dappled landscapes and moments of leisure—to be frivolous. Under Repin’s tutelage, Fechin cultivated an exuberant style of painting that recalled the immediacy and spontaneity of the Impressionists but maintained a strong focus on draftsmanship and design of the Russian realist tradition.

Encouraged in part by Repin’s emphasis on the importance of individualism in art, Fechin began to focus primarily on portraiture as early as 1904, but the works he executed in Taos distinguish themselves as among the most compelling of his oeuvre. In these paintings, including Indian Girl with Blue Shawl, Fechin emboldens his distinctive vision of the impressionist style with dramatic new juxtapositions of vibrant color inspired by Taos. For, in addition to its spectacular scenery, Fechin found himself deeply inspired by the colorful culture of the region’s indigenous population; their simple way of life and religious customs reminded the artist of his own childhood in rural Russia. Seeing potential subject matter everywhere, Fechin frequently asked his Indian neighbors to pose for him and became particularly eager to capture the children of Taos engaged in of their everyday activities. “Fechin was fond of portraying children," explains Galina Tuluzakova. “It is difficult to avoid sentimentality in children’s portraiture, to regard the child not as a future grown up person, but to emphasize the self-contained value of the still unshaped character, to convey the specific fluent quality of childish movements and the intrinsic vivacity of childish glances” (Nikolai Fechin, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2007, p. 451). Like the Ashcan artist and teacher Robert Henri, Fechin sought to capture the inner spirit and dignity of each sitter, especially when portraying the individual character of children.

Indian Girl with Blue Shawl demonstrates the aesthetic shift Fechin’s work underwent during his Taos period. Here he renders the features of the child with careful attention, accurately capturing the subtle physical details specific to childhood. The sitter’s eyes meet the viewer with a dark, almost apprehensive intensity, giving the work a sense of powerful intimacy and demonstrating the artist’s interest in conveying the psychological character of his subject. The attention Fechin paid to facial expressions—particularly the eyes—as a means of communicating emotion can also be attributed to Repin’s influence. The strong draftsmanship the artist achieves here allows him to experiment more liberally with color and texture in the background and the clothing of the figure without forsaking the overall success of the composition. He applies strong passages of electric blue, deep brown and fiery orange to the canvas with exceptionally gestural brushstrokes that contrast vigorously with the solidly rendered face of the figure. An extremely energetic painter, Fechin often utilized a palette knife to thickly apply pure pigment to the canvas, also discarding tools entirely to use his thumb to rework details such as the subject’s specific expression. This unusual process, which his daughter remembered as imbuing his portrait sessions with a sense of excitement, ultimately contributes to the artist’s dynamic aesthetic, one that transcends Impressionism to suggest components of Fauvism, Expressionism and abstraction.
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