Head of a boy signed 'N. Fechin' (lower right) oil on canvas 20 x 16in overall: 26 3/4 x 22 1/2in
PROVENANCE: Property from a California museum
Nicolai Fechin was one of America's premiere portraitists of the southwest in the early 20th century. His paintings combined the best traditions of Russian academic painting with contemporary Western style. His masterful technique is apparent in his highly expressive and emotional works in both portraits and genre paintings. His works painted in New Mexico are unlike almost any other artist practicing in the region at the time.
Fechin's artistic progression began in art school in Kazan in his native Russia in 1895 and continued on at the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersberg, studying under Ilya Repin until 1909. After approximately 1904 he began to concentrate increasingly on portraiture and experimenting with using a palette knife to apply color to large areas of surface to emphasize gesture and movement. He was awarded the title of Academician of Art in 1916 and was widely exhibited throughout Europe and America. His work were also regularly on display at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. With the help of American collectors, the artist emigrated from Russia, which at the time was suffering from famine brought on by years of revolution and civil war.
The aritst's first decade in the United States was a successful period. He exhibited at prestigious galleries , experienced commercial success and attracted collectors and admirers of his work. Settling in Taos, New Mexico he became fascinated by the co-existence of Indian, Spanish and American cultures. His work is distinctive among the Taos arists, partly because of his Russian training and his unusual use of palette knife technique. His portraits were highly sought-after by the rich and famous and some contemporary celebrities, including Willa Cather, chose Fechin to paint their portraits.
The sitter in 'Head of a Boy' was used by Fechin in several paintings. A larger work depicting the boy, in the same overalls, holding a bridle in a barn, was sold at Doyle's in New York in May of this year. Fechin clearly enjoyed painting sitters with distinct features. In most of his portrait work, the sitter's personality seems to be the focus more than anything else. The background, clothing, and other details always seem secondary to the faces and expressions of his sitters. His portraits have frenetic energy which gives the paintings movement and focuses the viewers' attention to those facial features.