Portrait of Alexandra - Russian impressionism museum
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Portrait of Alexandra, 1926–1927

Nicolai Fechin

Oil on canvas

Private collection, Moscow

Fechin’s true nature was fully revealed in the portraits of people close to him. He created a whole gallery of images of his beloved wife — Alexandra Nikolaevna. In the countless pictorial and graphic portraits, Fechin idealises his wife, presenting her in different images — either a simple Russian woman, or a refined aristocratic lady or a tender mother. She may be dressed in a Renaissance costume or in an open decadent dress, but these staged outfits never distract our attention from her recognisable face, with pensive eyes and a slightly prominent chin. Her portraits happily combine the ideal and the real, the desired and the actual, life and art.

Fechin’s wife was the main woman in his life and his great love.... she was also the source of a great deal of drama. Alexandra had a passionate, impulsive nature. She also had many complaints about Fechin’s explosive personality and the fact that he always prioritised his work over everything or everyone else. The artist’s family life had never been smooth, but Alexandra’s request for a divorce after twenty years of marriage together was a blow to Fechin. For another five years after the breakup, the artist sent letters to his former wife, full of amorous confessions and longings.

After her break with Fechin, Alexandra had no means of subsistence. She obtained an amazing house-workshop in Taos, but there was no money for heating. She ate once a day in a local restaurant-cum-antique shop, but never directly paid for her food. The owner, Ed Lineberry, the husband of the artist Duane van Vechten, came to Alexandra’s house once a year and chose something from the collection of her ex-husband’s works as payment for the meals.