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Nicolai Fechin (Russian/American, 1881-1955)


Birth Place: Russia


Who was Nicolai Fechin?

Best known for his portraits of the denizens of the American West (especially Native Americans and Mexicans), it might be surprising to learn that Fechin didn’t travel to the US until he was nearly thirty. His first exhibition came at an international expo in 1910 at a gallery in Pittsburgh. After immigrating to New York City in 1923, Fechin’s tuberculosis forced him to move to the American Southwest where he settled in Taos, New Mexico.

It was during his time there that Fechin became obsessed with the indigenous people of the area. Himself a Tartar, an ethnic group in the USSR, Fechin’s portrayal of the New Mexican population was evocative, stark, and beautiful. His style, which owed greatly to the masters of the 19th century, was an unlikely pairing for these portraits, but there is no denying the excellence of the results. He died in Santa Monica, California in 1955. 

What type of art does Nicolai Fechin create?

Nicolai Fechin was a Russian painter best known for his evocative portraits of Native Americans, Mexicans, and cowboys during the early 20th century. Known as, “the Tartar painter” he experienced significant success during his lifetime -- especially in the US. While his personal life was famously stormy, he traveled frequently, painting the entire time. As such, he has a large body of work that spans nearly half a century. 

How often do Nicolai Fechin paintings come up for auction?

Nicolai Fechin’s paintings often come up for auction. His large body of work combined with a resurgence in popularity has led to reasonably high demand for his paintings. While many of the paintings that have come up recently are still lifes or sketches, the most in-demand work will always be his painted portraits -- especially those of the Native Americans during his initial tour of the United States.

How much is a Nicolai Fechin painting worth?

Many of Nicolai Fechin’s are extremely valuable, with some being worth millions of US dollars. His paintings routinely outperform their high estimates and seem to be trending in that direction. Indeed, many of his most valuable paintings have come to auction in the last ten years. That said, if a Fechin portrait comes up for auction, it’s worth taking a long look at -- because of its inherent value, it may not resurface for some time. 

Which Nicolai Fechin painting is the most valuable? 

The most valuable Nicolai Fechin painting is The Little Cowboy (unknown) which sold for 10.8 million dollars in 2010. While surprising to the art world at the time (it sold for ten times the high estimate), in hindsight this makes sense. The Little Cowboy has many of Fechin’s trademark aesthetics. A small boy, painted almost in an abstractionist style, with muted colors and deep browns -- his face solemn, his feet bare. 

What are the most famous paintings by Nicolai Fechin? 

Including the aforementioned The Little Cowboy, many of Fechin’s most famous paintings are portraits. Portrait of Nadezhda Sapazhnikova (1908) is a great example of the typical Fechin. While it was painted before his first tour abroad, it is still painted in the same abstractionist style, where a woman sits in repose, her gaze off to the left of the painter. Subdued yet evocative, Fechin’s hurried brush strokes make it seem as vital today as it did at the turn of the last century. 

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