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Nicolai Fechin Illustrated Biography
Nicolai Fechin in Taos
Nicolai Fechin Charcoal: "Taos Pueblo"
Nicolai Fechin Art for sale. Charcoals, Drawings, Paintings at Parsons in Taos
Nicolai Fechin is the most internationally famous artist of the early Taos art colony.
His work is highly sought by collectors worldwide, especially China, the United States and Russia.
Click below to download more Nicolai Fechin Complete Original Artworks
Nicolai Fechin Artist Biography
written by Robert Parsons
and Ashley Rolshoven
Nicolai Fechin's Taos: His Home, Art and Life:
"He felt particularly close to the Indians and his greatest American works were of Indians," Fechin's daughter, Eya
"He thought Pueblo Indians possessed the same spirit as well as other qualities of the Tartars of his homeland. He always painted his Indians as they were, never creating artificial scenes with nonauthentic props." "He loved the place (Taos). He had found an American 'home'. He said the Taos mountains reminded him of the beauty he had seen in Siberia. He painted with fervor." (Balcomb xi-xii)
"New Mexico encouraged him to paint landscapes. Like all the Taos artists, he appreciated the light of Taos."
Eya said, about The Nicolai Fechin House, "A Russian house evolved out of New Mexico mud." “The house is the masterpiece of the collection. It really has to be looked at that way.”
Fechin House in Taos by Bill Johnson
Eya said, "He didn't like the power of art dealers and patrons. He believed that American artists were too fearful of losing control of their ideas and potential revenue.. .fostering a serious lack of exchange of ideas among artists."
Fechin realized that everything grows and changes:
Nicolai Fechin saw art and all of life as continually evolving and growing.
He said: "Art, like the whole of life, submits to the eternal law of change, and any attempts to stop it at one particular level are like vain efforts to stop time itself."
"Artists and critics compete with each other in their endeavors to destroy the traditional approach to the fundamental principles required for the careful technical execution of any work. In their mad pursuit of novelty, they do not have enough time for a conscientious development of their ideas and, as a result, they have had to make legitimate that which I would call 'illiteracy' in the arts."
"It is always a temptation for a beginner to take the path of least resistance. He usually takes as his model the reproductions of some fashionable painter and copies them, believing by so doing he acquires knowledge. Such a beginning is unsound, because it starts with the end-product of the original work - the finished results of an artist's long and patient toil. Superficially absorbing this final expression of work, the student overlooks the process of attaining these results and does not comprehend at all the work of creating."
“The artist must never forget that he is dealing with the entire canvas, and not with any one section of it. Regardless of what he sets out to paint, the problem remains one and the same. With his own creative originality, he must fill in his canvas and make of it an organic whole. There must not be any particularly favored spot in the painting...”
Fechin understood that Truth is more important than novelty:
"The appearance of a truly new idea in art is always valuable, but only when it aims at fulfilling itself in an accomplished piece of work."
Fechin's daughter: "Eya"
And Fechin was especially offended by the power held by art dealers and patrons,
fearing that the Commercial Art Word stifled creativity.
Fechin said, "An artist should work every day with everything that is at hand. . . . It is necessary to exercise the hand and the eye the same way it is necessary for a musician to exercise every day his hearing and his hands." (Fechin, The Builder, 1982)
Fechin is called "one of the great artists of all time," a “living old master…an artist’s artist, The Michelangelo of our time," a "Moujik in art," the "Russian Dareist" and "Tartar painter."
In Taos, New Mexico, Fechin created some of his greatest art works and impressionist wood sculptures and busts.
Fechin perceived, and expressed in his art, the similarities and common identity, beauty, dignity and high culture of the Taos Pueblo Indians, Southwest Native Americans, and the Tartars of Kazan.
Nicolai Fechin "Self Portrait"
Fechin Charcoal - "Cabin in the Woods"
Nicolai Fechin Biography Timeline:
NICOLAI FECHIN (1881-1955)
Nicolai Fechin was a mixed media and mosaic and fresco and paint muralist, easel painter, furniture designer and cabinet maker, plein air and easel painter, print maker and graphic designer, sculptor and wood carver. His work was made distinctive thru the use of his hands and fingers, palette knife and heavy texture.
Fechin made heavy use of the palette knife directly on the canvas.
Fechin's art contrasts both realism and abstraction, constantly flowing from one to the other and back.
Fechin is also noted for his carved, impressionistic busts.
He is among the world's greatest ethnic portrait painters.
Portrait of Fechin the Artist
Nicolai Fechin media included oil paints, inks, gouache, graphite pencils, charcoal, crayon, bronze, wood, and pastel paints.
Fechin was a complete master of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, woodcarving and ceramics.
He usually made his own canvases and frames, and worked directly on them without the use of sketches.
The subjects of N. Fechins' art works included the human figure, nude figures, portraits, human head images, faces, portrait heads, female faces and figures, Native American Indians, cowboys, horses, mammals, animals, floral landscapes, wildflowers, architecture, buildings, houses, structures, human activity, landscapes, marine and maritime scenes, riverfronts, boats, canoes, nude figures, still lifes, floral still lifes, floral motifs and flowers.
On Nov. 28, 1881 Fechin was born in Kazan, Russia, capital of the Tartar Republic, on the Volga River.
Söyembikä Tower, Kazan (by A.Savin)
He grew up near to the Tartar Tribes, spending his childhood in the Volga Forest.
This would prove important later when he recognized the common identity of the Tartars and the Taos Pueblo American Indians.
As a child he contracted meningitis, ("Brain Fever"), and
at fours years old he was critically ill and expected to die, but was healed by the touch of Ikon of Tischinskoya.
The heavy iconostasis of Mother Mary (requiring two men to lift it) was passed over him and he made a miraculous recovery.
His father, Ivan Alexandrovitch Fechin, taught him woodcarving.
At only six years old, Fechin was so accomplished that he began to do all of his father's drawings for his carvings.
But during a cholera epidemic, his parents died of typhoid.
"Portrait of the artist’s father"
At 13 Fechin was honored with a six year scholarship to the Kazan Art School,
part of The Imperial Academy of Art of St. Petersburg, studying there from 1895 to 1900.
He graduated with the highest possible grades and honors.
The Kazan Art School was founded by his grandfather.
At the age of 19, he mentored with Ilya E. Repin, who instructed him in morality and truth in art.
Repin was one of Fechin's most influential teachers.
Repin, the most widely known 19th century Russian artist, was born August 5, 1844 and died September 29, 1930.
Repin's important works include Barge Haulers on the Volga (1873).
Repin taught the artist to focus on truth and morality, not just aesthetics.
Repin wanted his students work to reflect the realities of life in Russia and to direct attention to social evils.
Fechin said that Repin "valued everything more or less original in the student. ... He not only saw the work of the artist, but his soul as well.”
Self Portrait by Repin, Moscow: Tretyakov Gallery
He studied with Repin from 1900 to 1909 at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.
As a student of Repin, Fechin completed several large historical master pieces in St.Petersburg.
Then, after 1904, portraits became increasingly more important for him.
Fechin was a student of Ilya Repin (1844-1930). Fechin himself trained Peter Kotov (1889-1953),
who then went on to teach Sergei Bongart (1918–1985). Bongart then taught Don Sahli.
Nicolai Fechin as a student
During the Russian Japanese war, Repin left the temporarily closed academy and never returned.
Fechin studied Architecture at this time.
He learned anatomy and produced over 300 drawings.
He mentored with Filipp Malyavin (1896-1940), who taught artistic technique
and the use of bold, masculine and wide, nervous brush strokes
and to use his fingers in the application of paint to enhance the texture.
He also received instruction at the Imperial Academy of Art in Petrograd, which later became Leningrad.
In 1904 he visited Siberia with his friend, a geologist.
The next summer he visited nearby villages observing and recording everyday life of the poor peoples.
"Manuelita - with Intense Gaze"
After 1904 he worked increasingly on his portraits,
which show the essence of individuality, the intensity of feeling, and radiant eyes.
"Native American Necklace"
Fechin's landscapes show the creative beauty and energy of nature itself.
Fechin's portraits from Taos, his depictions of the Native American Indians and his visions of the high desert New Mexico landscape, are thought to be some of his greatest works.
Fechin landscape in watercolors
His treatment of hands and faces is noteworthy.
In 1908 he was awarded the first prize at the Spring exhibition at
The Imperial Academy of Art of St. Petersburg.
He won a second place medal at the 1909 International Exhibition of the Munich Künstlergenossenschaft.
After his graduation in 1909, Fechin taught at the Art School of Kazan.
He studied at he Imperial Academy of Art in Petrograd (later called Leningrad).
The Bolshevik Revolution helped drive him from Russia.
The Bolshevik government confiscated Alexandra's property.
His parents died of typhoid fever.
Fechin himself caught pneumonia and could not teach.
In 1909 he was awarded a traveling scholarship to Europe.
He visited the major museums and influential art galleries in Germany, Austria, Italy, and France.
He learned to paint with a palette knife.
Fechin used the palette knife to create abstract effects to emphasis movement and gestures.
He did not so much mix colors, but rather built one color on top of another.
He always stretched and prepared his own canvases, using different mediums for the under layer to achieve different effects across the painting.
Fechin explains his use of colors:
"To avoid murky results, it is necessary to learn how to use the three basic colors and to apply them, layer upon layer, in such a way that the underlying color shows through the next application. For instance, one can use blue paint, apply over it some red in such a manner that the blue and the red are seen simultaneously and thus produce the impression of a violet vibration. If, in the same careful manner, one puts upon his first combination a yellow color, a complete harmonization is reached - the colors are not mixed, but built one upon the other, retaining the full intensity of their vibrations."
"Portrait of Shelia Wardell"
Fechin said, "For my own work, I do not like to use medium. This dissolves the paints too much. The pigments mix together and cannot retain their individual distinctiveness and thus again lose much of their fresh intensity."
“As a matter of fact an artist has to deal with only three basic colors: red, blue, yellow (all the rest are combinations of these fundamental colors). Everyone knows this, but few pay attention to the fact. Thus the first step for the artist to learn to see these primary colors and to distinguish them separately one from the other.”
His seemingly almost accidental brush strokes juxtapose each other yet flow together to reveal the powerful emotional content underneath.
“... a high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominant place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value...” - Nicolai Fechin
"Technique should be considered only as a means to an end but never as the end itself. To me, technique should be unlimited, fed by a constant growth in ability and understanding. It must never be mere virtuosity but an endless accumulation of qualities and wisdom." - Nicolai Fechin
"Girl in a orange Dress"
In 1910, he showed at
the Seccession Exhibition in Munich.
In 1910 Fechin won the gold medal at the Prix de Rome for his painting called "Bearing off the Bride".
In 1910 he won the gold medal at the International Exhibition in Munich.
In 1910 he helped found the Commune of Artists.
In 1914 he created his masterpiece "Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya".
Photo of Fechin the Artist
From 1912 to 1920 he showed with the Itinerants.
From 1922 to 1926 he showed with the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR).
In 1910 he received his first American exhibition at the International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.
There his masterpiece "Madame Sapojnikova" was purchased by W.S. Stimmel, his friend and patron.
He showed at the Munich Glaspalast.
He was also commissioned to paint Lenin, Karl Marx, Frieda Lawrence, Willa Cather,
Mabel Dodge Luhan, artist Eleanora Kissel, Duane Van Vechten (who herself followed Fechin to Taos and became an important Art Patron) and Lillian Gish, as well as American Generals, including Douglas MacArthur.
"Portrait of Frank Waters"
Author Frank Waters said of Fechin's Paintings:
"How they shout and sing! No man . . . has his intensity of color.
Few can equal his masterful draftsmanship.
Whatever his subject, Fechin's work is stamped with his immediately recognizable style."
In 1911 he won honors at he Annual Winter Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York.
From 1910 to 1914, he showed at the International Exhibition of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.
He was discovered by New York art patron W.S. Stimmel.
Stimmel became his close friend and helped Fechin immigrate by selling his works
and establishing a line of credit for him in America.
Stimmel purchased his portrait of Madame Sapojnikova.
In 1912, he showed at the Peredvizhniki group exhibitions.
In 1912, he showed at the Independent Artist Association in St Petersburg.
Alexandra Belkovich (from Forrest Fenn Archive)
In 1913 Fechin married the beautiful and aristocratic Alexandra Belkovitch (1893 - 1983) .
She was the teenage daughter of the founder of the Kazan Art School.
In his deep love, Fechin named her "Tinka".
In her love for him, she held their lives together, doing everything and freeing Nicolai to create his art.
In 1914 the Fechins' only child, Eya, was born.
In 1914, he showed at
the Independent Artist Association in St Petersburg.
In 1914, he exhibited at the International exhibition in Venice.
He showed at he Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915
along with Alfred Sisley, Puvis de Chavanne, Eugene Boudin, Camille Pissarro and Pierre Auguste Renoir.
In 1916 he was honored to become a member
of the Peredvizhniki group and a member of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1918 Fechin was commissioned to paint the portrait of Vladimir Lenin.
He created theater sets from 1920 to 1922.
Because of the violence of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Tinka and Eya had to flee 20 miles away to the Pine Grove of Vasilievo, where her father purchased a house for them.
As conditions worsened, they lost that home as well.
Fechin's parents were stricken by typhoid fever which killed them.
In extreme poverty, together with his wife and daughter, Fechin moved to America.
His wife demanded the move.
On August 1, 1923, he arrived in New York.
He began to sign his name in English, although he felt his Art Work was more important then his signature.
His move was aided by W.S. Stimmel, Jack R. Hunter, American collectors and architect John Burnham.
Fechin became an instructor at the New York Academy of Art.
Fechin's advice to students
Fechin, remembering his own art lessons, did not force his students into repetitious exercises.
But he always stressed that an artist must "see". He said, "The appearance of a truly new idea in art is always valuable, but only when it aims at fulfilling itself in an accomplished piece of work."
"All creation is personal and belongs to you alone. The teacher must not touch this. His main reason for existence is to see that the work of the student is well thought out and constructively organized."
Fechin also wrote, “No one can teach you how to paint and how to draw except you yourself. You cannot learn how to paint by watching a well-trained master painting, until you yourself, have learned how to paint with some understanding first. Only by the path of much practice and experience can mature results be reached.”
“Fine painting is simply a matter of putting the right colors in the right places on canvas.”
“He would begin by looking at an empty canvas. He would look at it and say, ‘This is a beautiful space and the only job of the artist is to fill that space in with harmony and balance.’ And if it was truly in harmony and balance you could put it upside down and it should still be in harmony and balance; and if it wasn’t he would chuck it and start again.”
- Eya Fechin
Photo of Nicolai Fechin
courtesy Don Kurtz
At this time Fechin began to show a special interest in portraying ethnic and dark skinned people.
In 1923 he showed at the Exhibition of Russian Painting and Sculpture at the Brooklyn Art Museum.
He also had a solo exhibition at Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.
In 1924, he received
the First prize of the New York Academy of Arts.
In 1924 he was honored with the first prize for portraits,
the Thomas Proctor Award for portraiture at the National Academy Exhibition.
He was honored by showing at the Grand Central Art Gallery.
In 1926, he was honored with
the Gold Medal of the International Exhibition in Philadelphia.
His friends included Arshile Gorky and David Burliuk, the Father of Russian Futurism.
Fechin's work was acquired by art lovers in Italy, Germany, France and the United States as his fame grew.
He made a portrait of novelist Willa Cather.
He traveled to California, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
John Young-Hunter and his wife Mary, Fechin's artist friends, urged Fechin to go West and see the "real" America.
In 1926, persuaded by John Young-Hunter and his wife, Mary,
he moved to Taos, New Mexico, seeking relief from his tuberculosis.
He would live there among the Peoples of the Pueblo, Apache and Navajo nations.
"Young Native American Boy" by Nicolai Fechin
Fechin was 42 years old when he began to work in Taos.
Even today, the Taos Art Colony (founded by Bert Phillips and E.L. Blumenschein), arguably has the world's most artists per capita.
Mabel Dodge Luhan, whose generosity helped so many artists relocate to Taos,
also invited Fechin to Taos.
He lodged in Taos with her.
Mabel Dodge Luhan House (courtesy NPS)
Nicolai Fechin: Across two continents:
Fechin felt at home in Taos, as it felt to him like the Russian Caucasus.
Having a lifelong fascination with all Native peoples,
he saw the Taos Pueblo Native American Indians as the same as the poor Natives of Russia.
He saw the Indigenous Natives as having the same human spirit worldwide.
In Taos, his art showed the creative energy and dignity of both the Peoples and the Earth itself.
"Mountain in Winter" by Nicolai Fechin
His palette brightened in Taos with his portrayal of the Native Peoples.
He was fascinated by the Native Americans' heritage, customs, culture and vibrant colors.
Fechin loved both America and Russia.
In return he was loved, recognized and honored across two continents.
He said about America:
“There is peace and freedom in their country. One can work, paint whatever one likes."
The Kazan Art Center in Russia has the world's largest collection of his Art.
Russia's premiere art school has been renamed "The Fechin Art School".
Eya returned his ashes for burial in Kazan in Russia.
While Fechin always thought that he would return home to Russia, he never did.
He said: “One comfort is that fate has divided my life between two great people.”
"Old Pueblo Man"
In Taos, Fechin found other fellow New York artists including John Marin, Robert Henri, Andrew Dasburg, and Marsden Hartley.
In 1928 he acquired a home in Taos, next to the Taos Peublo, and adjacent to the Luhans' land, later to be called The Nicolai Fechin House.
Fechin's seven acres of land bordered the Native Taos Indian Pueblo and reservation.
Fechin converted a building in the back to a studio.
He hand built an ornate adobe house, which would later become the Fechin Institute.
In Taos he developed lead poisoning from using his thumb and fingers to apply paint.
A public anger outburst from Nicolai, led Alexandra to demand a divorce.
As Alexandra also managed Nicolai's business affairs and handled everything else for him,
the divorce left him isolated and incapacitated.
After their divorce in 1933, Fechin stopped work on the house, but Alexandra continued to live there until her death in 1983.
The Nicolai Fechin House is considered an Art Work Masterpiece and has been open to the public since 1981.
It combines the architecture of the Tatars with the Native Indian architecture of Taos.
The Taos Art Museum is part of the Fechin Institute established by Eya in honor of her father.
"Bring Taos art back to Taos" is slogan of The Taos Art Museum, because so much great art has left Taos.
The Fechin Institute is open to the public.
The Nicolai Fechin House is on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Fechin House - His Daughter's Playroom (by Scott Moore)
Fechin left his house to his wife and daughter.
He continued his friendship with John Young-Hunter.
Fechin's Art from his time in Taos is considered his best.
His colors brightened in Taos as he portrayed the high desert landscape and Native peoples.
"He painted with fervor".
He worked in Taos for seven years before he moved to Hollywood Hills,
encouraged by Earl Stendahl who had a gallery and studio there.
There he lived near his daughter Eya.
Eya Fechin grew from, “being my mother's little girl... to my father's closest friend."
Photo of Eya Fechin
Eya Fechin was born on Jun. 14, 1914 at Kazan, Tatarstan Republic, Russia.
Eya married Bennett Branham (1923 - 1996) and had one daughter, Nicaela "Nikki" Donner nee Branham.
As Fechins daughter, she grew up totally immersed in Art. As a teenager she was already acquainted with
Dorothy Brett, Frieda Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Spud Johnson.
In the 1930s she danced in Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" at the Hollywood Bowl.
Eya married Dave Rudyhar, philosopher, astrologer and musician.
Later she remarried to Bennett Branham, father of her daughter, Nicaela known as Nikki.
In the 1940s she became a modern dance therapist, beginning a psychodrama department at
the Iowa state mental hospital.
In 1976, Eya helped return her Fathers' ashes to Russia, according to his wishes.
She helped organize international exchanges of Fechin's work.
She was a resident of San Cristobal, New Mexico,
where she had a special stage built for her dance therapy.
Eya was a founder of the Fechin Institute in Taos in 1981,
which re-opened her childhood home to the public.
She died on Sep. 20, 2002 at Taos, Taos County, New Mexico, USA.
In 1932, Nicolai Fechin showed at the
Exhibition of Russian art in Philadelphia.
After his divorce in 1933 he traveled to Santa Monica, California.
In 1936 he went to Mexico and made many drawings.
In 1936 he started an art school in Santa Monica.
In 1938 he traveled to Bali, but had to leave because of Japanese military hostilities.
Fechin loved Bali, but found the wetness harmed his health.
"Girl with an earring from Bali"
He visited Mexico, Japan, Java and Bali and Indonesia.
He took his students with him to learn to paint in Mexico and Bali in the South Seas.
In the 1940s in response to Eya's requests, he purchased his Santa Monica studio.
Eya married in the 1940s, becoming Eya Fechin Branham.
She worked as a modern dancer and dance therapist,
starting a state mental hospital psychodrama department in Iowa.
Eya said Nicolai was content in Santa Monica,
"in contrast to his withdrawn silent attitude towards people in the past." (Balcomb xvi)
In Taos, Fechin's life had centered around work and his family.
He stayed away from socializing.
Fehin was uncomfortable with speaking english.
Although he began signing his name in English soon after his arrival, he thought his art works best expressed himself.
And yet, every Fechin signature is itself a work of Art.
Nicolai Fechin Signature Example:
Authentic signatures are only a part of certifying Traditional Fine Art.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
In 1955, persuaded by John Burnham, one of his greatest collectors,
he had a retrospectives in San Diego and La Jolla.
He died at his Santa Monica home on October 5, 1955.
Today his largest collection of art is at the Fechin Center in Kazan.
The Fechin Center showed a retrospective in his honor in 1981,
the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Russia has not forgotten her prodigal son.
He achieved the highest honors and recognition across two continents while he lived,
and worldwide today.
In 1976, Eya returned his ashes for burial in Russia.
He was buried in Arskoe Cemetery with a small, granite marker amongst the Russian Aristocrats.
In 1981 Eya Fechin Branham started the Fechin Institute in Taos,
a non-profit, educational organization located in Fechin House, his Taos home.
Nicolai Fechin studied and taught art at:
Grand Central School (Academy) of Art, Teacher
Kazan Art School, Russia-Student
Nicolai Fechin Awards include:
Prix de Rome - Gold Medal
In 1924, at the National Academy Exhibition, The Thomas Proctor Award for best portrait
Nicolai Fechin References and further information:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Nicolai Fechin: Across Two Continents, Amy Scott, Gerald Peters Gallery. Edition
Fechin: The Builder, Eya Fechin, Santa Fe: Blue Feather Press, 1982 Eya Fechin with Moses Porter
Nicolai Fechin Harold McCracken, 1961 The Hammer Galleries
Nicolai Fechin Mary N. Balcomb, 1975 Northland Press
Nicolai Fechin - Persimmon Hill vol. 8 #3 various, 1978 The Cowboy Hall of Fame
SAMUELS' Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1998
Fechin, Alexandra. March of the Past. Santa Fe: Writers' Editions, Rydal Press, 1937
Waters, Frank. "Nicolai Fechin," Arizona Highways, February, 1952
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