Nicolai Fechin and the Taos Art Museum

by Sarah Judson July 03, 2011

We recently enjoyed a visit to the Taos Museum of Art, which is located in the former home of the Russian-American artist Nicolai Fechin. An old adobe building with walls two feet thick, it was completely remodeled in the late 1920s by Fechin, whose extensive art education in Russia had included architecture. He had also learned woodcarving from his father, an icon maker, and this skill was applied to all the pillars, lintels, doors and furniture in his house. Fechin emigrated to the United States with his wife and daughter during the chaos that followed the Russian Revolution, when the intermittent civil war caused shortages in food, medicine and other necessities, and the Bolsheviks confiscated their property. For a few years, he lived in New York City, teaching at the New York Academy of Art, winning national and international awards and receiving commissions to do celebrity portraits. Then tuberculosis forced him to relocate to a dry climate. Taos, New Mexico, had become a well-established artist colony by then, and the Fechin family moved there in 1927. The clear mountain air, colorful Hispanic & exotic Pueblo Indian cultures combined with the stark adobe architecture, dramatic skies and desert landscapes had been attracting artists since the late 1890s. Fechin's paintings were unlike those of the founding painters who lived there - more expressive, with the long brushstrokes and vivid colors he had learned as a student in Russia. He also used palette knives and even his hands to achieve the energetic effect he wanted. Most of his paintings now reside in his home town of Kazan, Tatarstan, in Russia. Of course, several are on display at the Taos Art Museum, including this dramatic little 8x11 sketch entitled Chicken Coop. The thick snow, diagonal composition and subtle complementaries bear witness to Fechin's skill. You can also see a large collection of his work, both paintings and drawings, at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City.

Sarah Judson
Sarah Judson


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