Born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, Nicolai Fechin obtained his academic training from the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg. It was there that he quickly developed his unique style of painting. Using pure color applied directly onto the canvas with broad strokes of a palette knife, Fechin would often discard his artist's tools and use his thumb to rework the finer qualities of his paintings. He believed that the world around him was changing rapidly, and felt it important to accurately record life in the moment. Through this energetic display, his work seemed to take on abstract qualities.
With the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I, life became very arduous for Fechin and he moved to the United States and settled in New York City in 1923. Because of his bold and unique approach to painting, he was quickly accepted into the thriving artist community there. He was particularly impressed with Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery and greatly admired the work of Georgia O'Keeffe who exhibited there. Although he found work as a teacher and portrait painter, ultimately he found New York to be overwhelming and decided to head west to New Mexico and California.
In Portrait of a Lady thick strokes of viscous paint are applied rapidly with brush and palette knife, making bold juxtapositions of color appear to layer naturally. Fechin wrote, "it must not be forgotten that unadulterated paints fresh from the tube are beautiful, intense and clear, and only when one begins to mix them do they lose these vibrant qualities. The artist's problem of retaining the true pure strength of color depends on keeping the pigments separate and individually distinct. Mixing paints has definite limitations and only certain combinations of the three basic ones continue to provide clear and vital colors." (M.N. Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin, San Cristobal, New Mexico, 1999 ed. p. 160) The vitality of Fechin's palette and brushwork captures the sophisticated beauty and unique presence of his sitter, making the present work one of the artist's most rare and striking portraits.