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Nicolai Fechin


Nicolai Fechin was born in 1881 in Kazan, Russia. At age eleven, he drew designs that his father used in the construction of altars. When he was thirteen, he enrolled at the Kazan School of Art. At the Imperial Academy of Petrograd he studied with Ilya Repin and Malavin. During his last year at the Academy, he was given a position at the Kazan School of Art as an instructor. In 1909 he graduated with the highest grade possible and his final competitive canvas won him the Prix de Rome, a traveling scholarship, that allowed him to roam the artistic capitals of Europe in 1910. Within this year he first began exhibiting his art in America, one exhibit was an international exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.

When Fechin returned from traveling, he resumed teaching at Kazan where he taught for ten years and, in 1913, married the daughter of the director. He was a popular instructor. Because he was mostly self-taught, he was apt to give instruction in a manner less demanding than the grueling exercises he was forced to complete at the Academy.

In 1923 he emigrated to the United States and landed in New York. He was already well known in the States from canvases sent to American and European exhibitions. In fact, it was his American friends and patrons that helped him leave Russia. His portraits were in demand immediately and he won the first prize at the Academy in New York in 1924 and a medal at the 1926 International Exposition in Philadelphia.  

Fechin became well-known for his powerful portraits that always seemed to radiate from the eyes of the subject. Some of his more renowned subjects are Nikolai Lenin, Karl Marx, Frieda Lawrence and Lillian Gish. At an early age he had learned carving and produced impressionistic sculpture primarily from wood. At the Academy he used other materials but he was impatient about the necessary construction of armatures and had no care for the seemingly endless casting processes, while the creative process became the lesser part. With wood he could begin creating immediately.

Fechin almost died from meningitis as a child and unfortunately developed tuberculosis when he was in New York. Doctors told him to move to a dryer climate which sent Fechin traveling west. He eventually moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1927. The Taos mountains reminded him of the beauty he had seen in Siberia. He soon painted with fervor and felt particularly close to the Indians. His greatest American works were of the Indians. Fechin had great affection for Taos and became a naturalized American citizen while living there. He built a house in Taos of which he carved the doors, the window frames, the pillars, the furniture, and designed the adobe structure.

He stopped building when he and his wife divorced. He left the house in Taos and went back to New York with his daughter for the winter. After New York, he traveled to Southern California, Mexico, Japan, and the Pacific Islands of Java and Bali. Soon he bought a spacious house in Hollywood, but quickly sold it and moved into a studio in Santa Monica in 1948. There he taught small groups of students, painted, and happily entertained guests in his studio. In 1955 he passed away in Santa Monica, California. Some paintings and portraits along with his work table and easel are on display at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, and the rest of his works are displayed in different countries around the world.

                         Public Collections                            

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum           

The Art Institute of Chicago

Stark Museum of Art

Eiteljorg Museum of Art

Phoenix Art Museum

Roswell Museum and Art Center

Arizona State University Art Museum Museum of New Mexico
The University of Arizona Museum of Art

Woolaroc Museum

USC Fisher Gallery Springville Museum of Art
Oakland Museum of California Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

San Diego Museum of Art

Colorado Springs Fine Art Center

Museum of Art at Brigham Young University

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum