Nikolai Fechin (Russian, 1881-1955) Corn Dance, circa 1930

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Lot 43*
Nikolai Fechin
(Russian, 1881-1955)
Corn Dance, circa 1930

£ 190,000 - 240,000
US$ 250,000 - 310,000
Nikolai Fechin (Russian, 1881-1955)
Corn Dance, circa 1930
oil on canvas mounted on conservation board
42 x 42cm (16 9/16 x 16 9/16in).


  • Provenance:
    Private collection, America (acquired directly from the artist);
    Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA;
    Private collection, Europe.

    Nicolai Fechin: Across Two Continents, Exhibition Catalogue, Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1997;
    Galina Tuluzakova, Nikolai Fechin, St. Petersburg, 2007, no. 149.

    Nicolai Fechin is one of the most prominent Russian artists of the first half of the 20th century. His paintings combined the best traditions of Russian academic painting with contemporary Western styles. His masterful technique is apparent in numerous highly expressive and emotional works, in both portraits and genre paintings.

    The artist's professional career began at the art school of his native town of Kazan (1895-1901), and continued at the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersburg (1901-1909), where Fechin studied under Ilya Repin. He was awarded the title of Academician of Art in 1916, and was widely exhibited throughout Europe and America. His works were also regularly on display at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. With the help of his American collectors, the artist emigrated from Russia, which at that time was suffering from the famine caused by revolution and civil war.

    The first decade in the United States was a successful period for Fechin. He exhibited in prestigious galleries, was successful commercially and attracted many collectors and admirers of his paintings. Settling in Taos, a small town in the mountains of New Mexico, he came to be fascinated by the co-existence of Indian, Spanish and American cultures. In particular, Native American Indian culture and customs became one of the artist's favourite subjects in many of his paintings from that time and in the years to come (for example, Christmas Eve, Taos Pueblo, 1930; and The Indian Dancers in the Stark Musum of Art, Orange, Texas).

    The 'Corn Dance' was one of the most popular subjects among the artistic community at Taos. Leon Gaspard, Herbert F. Robinson, Norman Chamberlain and Howard Cook all painted this spectacle. A summer dance, the Indians performed it in two rows, facing each other and softly stepping from one foot to the other. They raised and lowered their hands, thus creating a beat for the male choristers who would then step forward triumphantly, moving into the open space. The women would hold bunches of feathers in one hand and bundles of corn in the other, and the men, rattles made of emptied pumpkins to strike out the rhythm of the song. The Native Indian costumes were splendid: made from silk, knots and cotton, which could be bought in the small shops. After repeating the dance several times, they would come to a halt in front of the church. Young-Hunter remarked upon the Taos rituals: 'They were real spectacles that reminded me of the Ballets Russes, adorned by Leon Bakst'.

    The offered lot is a fine example of the artist's ability to denote the essence of movement and depict a group dance by focusing on a single figure in the crowd. The face of the young woman standing behind the central figure is also visible, while the other characters meld into the riot of lines and colour. This study exhibits all aspects of Fechin’s skill, an artist for whom each work was a self-contained and living being, in which all elements of the composition reveal themselves at one and the same time. It is apparent that it was a matter of the utmost importance to Fechin to find the most harmonious arrangement for all the fragments and patches of colour; to find an innate unity for all the impulsively rendered brushstrokes. The completeness of the central figures contrasts with an almost abstract background, while the apparent lack of completion
    co-exists with the vivid subject which almost jumps out at the viewer. This work unveils Fechin at his prime, an artist who excells in executing smaller studies as well as large, finished compositions. The rhythm of the pulsing blood, the drumbeat and the energy of the dance: all find expression in the deep, thick and responsive colour and in the energetic and boundless strokes.

    We are grateful to Dr. Galina Tuluzakova for this catalogue entry.
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