NIKOLAI FECHIN | Hollyhocks
signed in Latin l.r.; further bearing a Fenn Galleries label on the backing board
oil on canvas
65 by 52cm, 25½ by 20½in.
The canvas is lined and is securely attached to a modern expansion bolt stretcher stretcher.
This is providing a relatively even and stable structural support. The upper, lower and right tacking and turnover edges have been cut from the original canvas. This would appear to be contemporary to the lining process. The tacking and turnover edges of the lining canvas have been adhered to the stretcher members.
The paint surface has a relatively even varnish layer.
There are scattered networks of raised lines of craquelure with associated minor paint instability, most notably within the crimson coloured flowers. There are also a few very minor paint losses including one within the central grey flower and one within the pale red petals in the lower left quadrant of the composition.
Inspection under ultraviolet light shows scattered retouchings, including:
1) numerous retouchings within and around the flowers, most notably towards the upper left corner and above the rim of the vase in the lower centre,
2) a retouching within the second vase towards the lower left corner and a few spots above the left part of the lower edge, and
3) a few small retouchings below the upper edge and towards the upper part of the right edge.
Several of these retouchings are also visible in natural light.
The painting would therefore appear to be in relatively good condition.
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Nikolai Fechin is primarily known as an outstanding portraitist and master of genre scenes, but his talents as a painter are no less evident in the nude, landscape and still life genres. Although he painted still lifes throughout his career, the artist’s attitude towards the genre changed over the course of his life.
In several of the portraits and nudes Fechin painted in Russia, the brilliant still lifes, with their dazzling virtuosity, acted as important compositional accents (Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya, 1914, and Portrait of Nadezhda Sapozhnikova against a Backdrop of Wallpaper, 1916) or as an elegant detail (Nude in the Bathroom, mid-1910s). However, barely a handful of pure still lifes have survived. In his American period the genre developed in stages: the New York still lifes of ‘tea-drinking’ with samovars, teapots and fruits in vases on the dining table morphed into the ‘Indian’ still lifes with ceramics, corncobs and ritual toys painted in Taos. Flowers appear from time to time in the works painted in both New York and in New Mexico but it was in California that floral compositions assumed such a prominent place in Fechin’s genre hierarchy. In Los Angeles the natural-born portraitist began to find inspiration in lillies, callas, nasturtiums, pansies, orchids and hollyhocks, likely more than he did in the excessively well-off people. He could see ‘characters’ in the flowers and enjoyed the variety in their colours and shapes. The artist played with the colours of his palette, combined different textures, juxtaposed objects and relished reproducing both solid materiality and immaterial tones and reflections of light.
We would like to thank Galina Tuluzakova for providing this catalogue note.