Portrait of Engraver William G. Watt, 1924
Oil on canvas
Private collection, Moscow
William Watt’s vocation was wood engraving. Fechin caught the tension and power of the moment when the engraver was working on a wooden printing plate. Watt’s workshop is filled with books, artifacts and tools — it’s somewhat similar to an alchemist’s chamber. The direct light from the window that falls on the concentrated face and hands of the model, highlights the figure of the aging engraver. With all its vitality, there is a kind of mystical charm in the portrait that envelops the master at work.
Watt made several woodcuts from Fechin’s paintings, which testify both to the engraver’s high level of craftsmanship, and his respect for the pictures that they originated from.
“Portrait of the Engraver William Watt” marked an extremely important point in Fechin’s professional life. The picture was recognised as the best portrait in an exhibition at the American National Academy of Design. Fechin received the Thomas Proctor award and a $200 prize. The bold painting style and intriguing composition of this painting link it back to some of Fechin’s portraits he had painted back in Russia. Orders then poured in for the artist who had won such a prestigious prize. From that point on, Fechin became a recognised portrait painter of the New York art scene.