20.12.1881 - 05.10.1955
Fechin left Russia in 1923. They were waiting for him in the USA. With 18 works presented at an exhibition of Russian art at the Brooklyn Museum, he had attracted the attention of the general public and professionals alike. His first solo exhibition opened in New York in 1924. With no knowledge of English, Fechin regularly gave master classes: the process of painting was more expressive than words. Soon he became famous as a portrait painter. Commissions enabled him to stop teaching. Collectors bought his works from the easel, commissioned works and introduced Fechin to famous art dealers and museum directors. He was at the epicentre of the rich émigré artistic life of New York, making numerous portraits of society figures and artist colleagues (Portrait of Duane, 1926; Portrait of the Wood Engraver W.G. Watt, 1924) and relatives (At Home in New York, 1924; Portrait of Alexandra, 1926–1927), and painting still lifes and landscapes. It seemed that after his losses during the war, a long-awaited life of prosperity would now begin. But Fechin was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to leave New York in search of a more suitable climate.
In summer 1926, Fechin moved to the city of Taos in New Mexico at the invitation of patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan. At that time Taos was a cultural oasis, having become, thanks to Mabel Dodge, a local center of modernism in which artists from various countries settled. Against a background of magnificent nature, everything was combined here: the traditions of Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans, white Americans, and new immigrants from Europe; the unhurried pace of a province and the wild life of an artistic colony.
Fechin found himself in a brilliant artistic environment alongside other artists: his countryman Leon Gaspard and Georgia O’Keefe, the writer D.H. Lawrence, the Irish poetess Ella Young, and the photographer Paul Strand. Among notable works from Fechin’s Taos period are his portraits of Native Americans and Mexicans, which are romantic and sublime. The Russian painter was so close to the inhabitants of the reserved Indian community of Taos Pueblo that he even had the opportunity to observe some of their religious ceremonies, which had been concealed from prying eyes for centuries. The contrasting nature of New Mexico’s landscape and the colourful life of the Native Americans inspired the artist to introduce unusually bright colours into his palette.
In 1928, Fechin purchased a wattle and daub house with uneven walls in traditional Indo-Spanish adobe style and began to renovate it. The walls were painted white and huge arched windows were created (for working with natural light). The artist decorated the house with his own carvings with elements of Kazan heraldry: the snake creature Zilant, horse and bird heads, sun and water signs, the sacred tree. He also made his own wooden furniture. The artist’s house in Taos acquired the characteristics of Russian-style Art Nouveau. It was in Taos that the artist showed his originality not just in terms of painting but also in drawing, sculpture, wood carving and architecture.
This unusually fruitful period in Fechin’s life ended in tragedy. In 1933 his beloved wife Alexandra filed for divorce. The artist and his daughter Eya, who wished to remain with her father, spent the winter in New York and then moved to Los Angeles. Here Fechin met gallerist Earl Stendahl, who would exhibit his work for the next 20 years. He began teaching again. After his daughter’s wedding, the artist left the city and settled in Santa Monica. In 1936, Nicolai Ivanovich and his students travelled to Mexico, where he met Diego Rivera. Subsequent trips to Java, Bali and Japan enriched his late work with new themes. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life Fechin continued to be inspired by Taos.
The artist died in his sleep at the age of 73. According to his daughter, who managed his estate, Nicolai Ivanovich always remembered his homeland and stressed that his childhood, youth and creativity as an adult in Russia had a strong influence on him. In accordance with her father’s wishes, Eya Fechina presented his homeland with a collection of his works, and in 1976 she interred his ashes in Kazan.