Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin was born in 1881, in Kazan, Russia the son of Ivan Alexandrovitch Fechin, an accomplished icon maker, woodcarver, and gilder. By the age of eleven, he was drawing designs that his father used in the construction of altars. At thirteen, he was studying at the newly formed Kazan School of Art. In 1900, was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Petrograd. There he became more interested in portraiture. In 1909 his final competitive canvas won him the Prix de Rome, a traveling scholarship, which enabled him to travel throughout Europe in 1910. This year also marked the first exhibitions of his art in America. He sent Madame Sapojnikova (now in the San Diego Museum of Art) to an international exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. When Nicolai Fechin returned from his travels, he taught at Kazan School of Art and continued there for ten years. He was a popular instructor.
By 1923 he moved New York. As a result of his shows in American and Europe he was already well known in the US and was receiving steady work for portraits. He won first prize at the Academy in New York in 1924 and a medal at the 1926 International Exposition in Philadelphia. Nicolai Fechin developed tuberculosis while living in New York and was advised to move to a dryer climate. He visited Taos in 1926 and moved there in 1927.
The Russian prodigy would become an important artist of the Southwestern art movement. Fechin built a house in Taos. His father’s influence took over as Nicolai Fechin spent the next several years handcrafting every viga, corbel, lintel and swinging door and niche for icons. Today the home itself remains a work of architectural art and is the base for the Taos Art Museum – a non-profit cultural organization formed in 1981 to celebrate the life and creative pursuits of Nicolai Fechin and to host exhibits, concerts and make available information about this artist. The wonderful book by his daughter, Fechin: The Builder, details much of the marvelous artistry. In 1933, he left the house and Taos and went back to New York and eventually moved to Southern California. He used California as a base, teaching at the school of Earl Stendahl, a Los Angeles art dealer, and for his travels through Mexico and Japan and the Pacific Islands of Java and Bali. 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 and painted. Nicolai Fechin died there in 1955.
Fechin’s fascination with faces and people resulted in some very powerful portraits that seemed to radiate from the eyes of the subject. The farther away from the eyes on the canvas, the looser, more abstract, more impressionistic the image became. His love of the native, the peasant and the indigenous cultures of his travels inspired his art and the combination of that love and his powerful brushstrokes shine from every canvas.
Fechin: The Builder by Eya Fechin