Still Life - Vase of Flowers is a superb example of Nicolai Fechin's still life painting from the artist's most productive years in Taos, New Mexico. Here, the artist uses a riot of color to create a dramatic floral still life with roses and mum blossoms in a glass vase on a draped table. Fechin gives life and energy to the picture by applying vivid color with rapid but deft brush strokes and palette knife. This work shows his predilection towards modern art, and is indicative of the artist's Taos period, considered to be the period of his finest achievements in oil and his greatest American works.
Born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, 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 Bolshevic Revolution and World War I, life became very arduous for Fechin and he moved to the United States where he 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 The 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 depressing.
Fechin contracted tuberculosis in 1926 and was advised to seek a dryer climate. He and his family set out for California along a southern route, through the mountains and deserts of the southwest. This beautiful land awed Fechin and sparked his creative interest. John Young-Hunter, a friend and fellow artist invited Fechin to visit Taos, New Mexico, a burgeoning art colony. "Here, amid the grandeur of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, his eyes were opened to the picturesque Indian and Spaniards, with their ancient pueblos rich in tradition and in icon-decorated churches, reminiscent of the conquistadors. Here was a backdrop of extravagant history, studded with the legendary tales and characters of an exciting pioneer era. Here Nicolai Fechin found a real home." (H. McCracken, Nicolai Fechin, New York, 1961, p. 13) Fechin flourished in this beautiful land of bright light and intense color. He quickly developed a great respect and affection for the native people of the area, and often included them in his compositions.
In Taos, Fechin found great success and fulfillment in the area's bountiful sources of inspiration. Fechin sold many of his paintings before they were complete and received high praise whenever they were exhibited. In The Los Angeles Express, Alma May Cook described an exhibition of Fechin's work as "the most notable ever shown in Los Angeles a technique worthy of Rembrandt. [Fechin's work is] the art of old masters, possibly more than any other painter of modern times an art that is truly a gift of the gods." (A.M. Cook, The Los Angeles Express, April 17, 1930) Although his life was an enduring struggle personally and professionally, as an artist he continued to impress and inspire. "The story of Nicolai Fechin is one of a never ending struggle toward high ideals. In spite of many handicaps, disappointments and sorrows, his work shone with the joy of a genius. The brilliant superiority of his talent is sure to endure as long as there is an appreciation of fine art." (Nicolai Fechin, p. 14)