Nicolai Fechin was born in the village of Kazan, Russia, the son of skilled craftsman Ivan Alexandrovitch Fechin. As a teenager, Fechin began his artistic career; the Art School of Kazan, a branch of the celebrated Imperial Academy of Art of St. Petersburg, had just opened, and the promising young youth received a six-year scholarship.
His work first appeared in America at the International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In both western Europe and America, Fechin was greeted with instant acclaim. Among such distinguished contemporaries as Claude Monet, Pisarro, Gaston Latouche, Sisley and John Sargent, he won his first prizes and medals.
Fechin was well respected in Russia and was commissioned to paint a portrait of V.J. Lenin in 1918. However, hardships following the Bolshevik Revolution eventually led Fechin to take his wife Alexandra and daughter Eya to the United States in 1923, helped by two of his U.S. patrons. The family first settled in New York, but not for long. Although Fechin taught at the New York Academy of Art and in 1924 won the coveted Thomas Proctor prize for best portrait at the National Academy Exhibition, he was stricken with tuberculosis in 1926; his doctor prescribed the dry climate of the Southwest. He moved his family to Taos, a small artist colony in New Mexico. There he purchased a house in the middle of seven acres adjoining the Indian reservation.
His father’s influence took over as Fechin spent the next several years hand crafting every viga, corbel, lintel, swinging door and icon niche. Today the home itself remains a work of architectural art. Fechin remained in Taos for seven years before finally settling in Santa Monica, California after a stormy divorce. During that time, Fechin took great delight in the abundance of subject matter the Taos area provided him. He worked with vibrant hues to paint the native people and he traveled south to Mexico to sketch in charcoal, pencil, and pastel the many faces of its people. The sketches reveal the superb draftsmanship underlying all his work. His Taos paintings are regarded as among his best work because of the exotic subject matter, high degree of modeling of the faces, and forceful, intense coloration.
Author Frank Waters once wrote 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.”
Fechin remained in California until his death. His ex-wife and daughter continued to live in the house in Taos, and in 1981, Eya Fechin formed the Fechin Institute, a non-profit, educational organization headquartered in the house. An extensive collection of his work is remains there, while the Stark Museum in Orange, Texas has over 50 of his paintings as well as some of his woodcarvings.