Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955)
Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955)

Girl with Red Bow

Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955)
Girl with Red Bow
signed and dated 'N. Fechin./1910.' (upper right)
oil on canvas
27 3/8 x 22¾ in. (69.5 x 57.8 cm.)
Acquired by the parents of the present owners in 1969.
"Fechin Show Opens Today," The Oklahoma Journal, February 2, 1969, p. 10, illustrated.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Museum of Art, Nicolai Fechin, February 2-February 23, 1969.

Lot Essay

Born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, Nicolai Fechin obtained his academic training from the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg. Fechin was accepted at age 19 into the reputable school of famed artist Ilya Repin, whose politically charged and socially conscious works would have a profound impact on the young student. Fechin ultimately turned to portraiture for inspiration, rather than the more historical genre subjects of his teacher, as he believed that the world around him was changing rapidly and felt it important to accurately record life in the moment. "I understood that the compositional type of work could not be expressed thoroughly without the full knowledge of the human face and, instead of following his advice, I began working exclusively on portraits." (M.N. Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin, San Cristobal, New Mexico, pp. 6-7) From the outset, Fechin's works exhibited an emotional honesty and integrity that distinguished his canvases from his peers.

Both in painting style and his choice of subjects, Fechin sought to evoke a spirited personality in his compositions and a truthfulness to his subject. Mingling Fauvist color with the linear quality of the German Expressionists, Fechin immediately presented bold canvases of rich texture, broken color and layers of pigment. In 1910, the same year Girl with Red Bow was painted, Fechin was invited to contribute works to the Carnegie Exhibition, which also featured works by Sidaner, Monet, Sisley, and Pissaro. A reviewer for the New York Evening Post commented "Fechin possesses correctness of eye and a striking emotional force which is so typical and characteristic of a true Russian...he is also progressive in inspiration and more sensitive and restrained in chromatic scale. In regard to its merits, it is difficult to analyze so deep and expressive a sincerity and the irreprovable technique in which Fechin's art abounds." (Nicolai Fechin, p. 28)

The present portrait is believed to portray a young member of the Russian royal family. With economy of line, Fechin depicts the essential elements of his young sitter, capturing the expression of indifference as the child gazes both self-assuredly and casually at the viewer. In Girl with Red Bow, confident strokes of paint are applied rapidly with brush and palette knife, making bold juxtapositions of color and form layer naturally on the canvas. Rather than belabor the details of her clothing and torso, he instead chooses to display her defining facial features and allow his brush to capture the almost abstract quality of the rest of the composition. Deliberate flowing lines of pigment pulled from the brush that are evident in the present work, helped to define Fechin's early career, in contrast to his later more angular style of application as seen in works from Taos, New Mexico. A majority of Fechin's works from this period are housed in Russia making Girl with Red Bow a seminal and rare example from Fechin's early career that remains in private hands in the United States. With a directness and integrity, he has captured not only the personality of his sitter, but perhaps more significantly, elevated representational portraiture to a highly respected art-form in a modern era of abstraction.

The famed artist and teacher, Robert Henri, who undoubtedly had an indirect influence on Fechin's work, commented: "If you paint children, you must have no patronizing attitude towards them. Whoever approaches a child without humility, without wonderment, and without infinite respect, misses in his judgment of what is before him...Paint with respect for him...He is the great possibility, the independent individual." (W.I. Homer, My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri, Seattle, Washington, 1994, p. 13) The vitality and sincerity of Girl with Red Bow, along with Fechin's distinct palette and brushwork, make the present work one of the artist's most striking early portraits.