One of the great portrait artist's of the 20th century, Nicolai Fechin's imaginative and commanding representations of women, from his female students in Kazan, to American sophisticates and Native Americans are undoubtedly his most captivating works. From his earliest days as a young student, Fechin was intrigued by portrait painting, the widely varied faces of the people he encountered in his native Russia providing the foundation for a highly successful and varied career. Never content with merely capturing a likeness on canvas, Fechin strove to reveal the character and inner spirit of each of his sitters.
Fechin received his initial academic training at the Imperial Academy in St Petersburg before returning to his native Kazan where he taught and continued to paint. In 1923 the artist emigrated to the United States with his wife and young daughter. Here he immediately immersed himself in the artist community of New York City. He was already an established painter, having received invitations to exhibit at the Carnegie Institute in Pennsylvania, but new patronage now provided the artist with broader exposure and freedom to paint a variety of new subjects in his singularly distinct style. His works were exhibited at the Grand Central Galleries of New York, Vose Galleries of Boston, and at the Chicago Art Institute. In the Los Angeles Express on April 17, 1930, Alma May Cook described an exhibition of Fechin's as 'the most notable ever shown in Los Angeles...a technique worthy of a Rembrandt...[Fechin's work is] the art of old masters, possible more than any other painter of modern times...an art that is truly a gift of the gods.' (April 17, 1930).
The present work was painted in 1926, the year Fechin contracted tuberculosis and subsequently left New York in favour of the sunnier, drier climes of Taos, New Mexico. The sitter's relatively formal pose and the elegant position of her hands allow us to suggest that the work may relate to a commission. Displaying all of the artist's distinctive and energetic application of paint, Fechin's masterly impasto, which he would often apply with a palette knife and then work with his thumb, lends the work a vivacity which only serves to compliment the playful expression on the young sitter's face. Fechin's superb technical skill is matched by his confident approach to colour. His sophisticated but complicated balance of colour with form reflects his assertion that: 'The artist must not forget that he is dealing with the entire canvas, and not with only one section of it. Regardless of what else he sets out to paint, the problem in his work remains one and the same: with originality, to fill in his canvas and make of it an organic whole. There must not be any particularly favoured spot in the painting. It must be remembered that one false note in a symphony orchestra disrupts the harmony of the whole.' (quoted in M.N. Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin, San Cristobal, New Mexico, 1999, p. 159).
We are grateful to Dr Galina Tuluzakova for her assistance in cataloguing the present lot.