MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 8-9 June 2011

8 June 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Portrait of My Father,

* 43. FECHIN, NIKOLAI (1881-1955)

Portrait of My Father, signed.

Oil on canvas, 72 by 62cm.
380,000-450,000 GBP

Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist by W.S. Stimmel, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
The Stimmel family collection.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, USA

Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert G. Tuluzakova

Exhibited: Carnegie International, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 1910.
Founder's Day Exhibition, 1918. The Private Collection of Mr W.S. Stimmel. Paintings by Modern American and Foreign Painters, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 25 April-25 June 1918.
Contemporary Russian Painting and Sculpture, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, USA, 24 February-4 April 1923.
The Art Institute of Chicago Special Exhibition Paintings by Nikolai Fechin, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago II, USA, 18 December 1923-20 January 1924.
Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago II, USA, 1924.
Nicolai Fechin: Across Two Continents, Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, USA, November-December 1997.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Founder's Day Exhibition, 1918. The Private Collection of Mr W.S. Stimmel. Paintings by Modern American and Foreign Painters, Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, 1918, No. 20, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, The Art Institute of Chicago Special Exhibition Paintings by Nikolai Fechin, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1923, No. 9, listed.
Nicolai Fechin: Across Two Continents, Santa Fe, Gerald Peters Gallery, 1997, illustrated No. 4.
Galina Tuluzakova, Nikolai Ivanovich Fechin, St Petersburg, Zolotoi Vek, 2007, pl. 28, illustrated.

Portrait of My Father is a work of outstanding quality with an exceptional provenance. Executed while Fechin was still living and working in Russia, the painting was among the first works he sent to the United States, the country which he would later call home. It was also the first Fechin painting acquired by William S. Stimmel, a businessman and art collector from Pittsburgh who would be instrumental in the artist's emigration from Russia to America.

In 1910, only a year after his graduation from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, Fechin received an invitation to participate in the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. The artist sent two works to the United States: the present portrait and Portrait of Mlle Sapojnikoff, now in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art. Fechin's work caught the attention of Stimmel, who, from 1910 onwards, acquired several paintings at the Carnegie exhibitions and ordered from photographs that Fechin sent him. At the 1910 exhibition, Stimmel acquired Portrait of My Father.

Through Stimmel, Fechin, who was now teaching at the Kazan art school, established a firm connection with America. Interrupted by the War and the Revolution, their correspondence resumed in 1921, and Stimmel used his influence to help Fechin obtain the necessary papers to enter the United States. Fechin later wrote: "Having decided to leave our homeland, we gradually began preparing for our departure. In good time I received immigration papers from Mr. Stimmel, obtained by him from Washington, D.C. and signed by several senators who knew me by my work and wished to see me in the United States."

Portrait of My Father was shown at an exhibition of paintings from Stimmel's private collection at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1918. In the 1920s, the painting was exhibited at major American art institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Chicago Art Institute. Portrait of My Father remained in the Stimmel family collection for many years before it was acquired by the present owner.

The outstanding Russian-American artist Nikolai Ivanovich Fechin was a true Renaissance man: he was a brilliant painter, one of the masters of classical drawing of the first half of the 20th century, a sculptor, wood-carver and architect. His mastery of portraiture - in various media - was second to none. His models were of varying nationalities and social backgrounds, but his portraits of those in his intimate circle - his family, are among his very best, and those of his father, wife and daughter are undoubted masterpieces.

Ivan Alexandrovich Fechin (18??-1918) played an exceptionally important role in his son's life: in his development both as a personality and as an artist. Nikolai spent his early childhood in his father's joinery workshop, where they carved and gilded iconostases. This went a long way towards deciding the artist's future destiny. Ivan Alexandrovich had no education, and so did everything to ensure that his son would have, sending the 14 year-old to the newly-opened art school in Kazan. Then destitute, he was unable to support the boy financially, but always remained a figure of moral authority for him. This is attested by the large number of portraits of his father which Fechin produced throughout his life, from the late 1890s to the early 1950s (from memory after his father's death), in paintings, drawings and sculpture.

Today we know of no fewer than ten (if you count sculpture) portraits of his father in various media, though the location of at least three of these is unknown. These include such masterpieces as Portrait of My Father (1912, Fred Jones Jr Collection, Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA); Father Fishing (1913, private collection, USA); Reading the Newspaper, Portrait of the Artist's Father (1916, private collection, USA); Portrait of My Father (1918, collection of the State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan), and other portraits of his father from private collections in the USA.

The Portrait of My Father now offered at auction is from the collection of William S. Stimmel, Fechin's first American patron. From 1910 onwards Stimmel regularly acquired the artist's work from the international exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg, selecting his purchases from photographs sent to him. Fechin first took part in the Carnegie International exhibition in 1910, exhibiting two works, Portrait of Mlle Sapojnikoff (1908, now in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art, USA) and Portrait of My Father. We know that Stimmel acquired one work by this artist from the 1910 exhibition, and it must have been the portrait of his father because Stimmel acquired the Portrait of Mlle Sapojnikoff considerably later, at an auction in New York. This is according to the recollections of Jack Hunter, written in 1959 at the request of Iya Nikolayevna, the artist's daughter.

Portrait of My Father belongs to Fechin's mature works, in which all the features of this artist's virtuoso technique are revealed to the full: the combination of broad impasto brushwork for the clothes and background with a fluidly-rendered technique for the face; the restricted palette of three or four colours, which nevertheless gives the feeling of a full-blooded, colourful composition; the subtle interplay of the white and grey which form the basis of this picture, their changing relationships, from nuanced to contrasted, revealing this artist's love for the intrinsic value of pure, well-formed compositions, his total mastery in this sphere; and the vibrant texture of the paint surface, a Fechin speciality, which breaks up the rigid, static pose of the portrayal.

This portrait is not only typical of this artist, but is also among his most outstanding works and is without doubt of museum quality. For here shines through the genius of an artist whose spontaneous emotion, erupting in a rapid, energetic, fluid painting style, was rigorously organised by the precise logic of an internal structure and a first-class knowledge of the academic rules of draughtsmanship and colour combining. Portrait of My Father is a shining example of a portrait from the early 20th-century Russian school, and one of the masterpieces in Fechin's oeuvre.

Dr G.P. Tuluzakova

Portrait of My Father,
Portrait of My Father,
Portrait of My Father,

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.