DescriptionNICOLAI FECHIN (Russian/American, 1881-1955)
Oil on canvas
16 x 13 inches (40.6 x 33.0 cm)
Signed lower right: N. Fechin
Johnie (Mrs. H.S.) Griffin, Wichita Falls, Texas, and Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, acquired from the above;
Private collection, New Mexico;
By descent to the present owner, 1962.
Peasant Girl is a superb example of the humanistic and expressionistic portraiture that distinguished Nicolai Fechin within the Taos art colony. Its subject, a girl wearing a Russian babushka, signifies the strong influence of Fechin's homeland on his art, even after emigrating from Russia to New York in 1923, and settling in Taos in 1927. Taos offered Fechin new ethnic subjects -- the Pueblo Indians -- whose ceremonial customs and hardworking, noble character reminded him of the Cheremiss and Mordva peasants he had painted for decades back home. Even so, Fechin was repeatedly drawn to his Russian heritage: from the 1920s through the 1940s, he painted variations on the theme of the Russian girl in a headscarf -- some blond and blue-eyed, others brunette, some wearing the identical flowered babushka featured in Peasant Girl -- and he also created Russian-style sculpture, furniture, and architectural elements. Fechin chose to remain on the periphery of the Taos Society artists, best communicating his personality through the faces of his sitters and the liveliness of his technique. Recognizing Fechin's unshakable Russian spirit, his patron, the great Mabel Dodge Luhan, implored:
"What I want to say to you is this: you are essentially a Russian soul. You have never been truly nourished by our race over here or by our land. Perhaps the Indians gave you something, but not enough and I feel that you have been starved for a long time, or like a fish out of water. Only your natural element can nourish you. Go back to Russia who will feed you and return your soul to the light it is used to" (in N. Balcomb, Nicolai Fechin, Korea, 1975, p. x).
Peasant Girl is a tour de force of technique, exemplifying Fechin's fascination with the push-pull between calm and energy, individual brushstrokes and holistic composition, and sitter and background. His exposure to Impressionist painting on a trip to Paris in 1910 brightened his palette, loosened his brushwork, and reinforced his use of the palette knife as a tool for achieving rich impasto. In Taos, Fechin further animated his paintings by juxtaposing pigments; applying them rapidly with his thumb, a dry brush, and a palette knife; and glazing (layering) them to create a sparkling watercolor effect. In Peasant Girl, wild slashes of turquoises, cadmium yellows, burnt oranges, and emerald greens give rise to the soft, rosy face of the sitter, calmly materializing out of the abstract background. Fechin intentionally blurs her facial features to allow the viewer to interpret her psyche. Indeed, Peasant Girl is as much about the viewing experience as the sitter herself: the eye delights in studying single colors and brushstrokes, the beauty of the girl's face, and finally the composition as a whole.
Peasant Girl is additionally impressive in that it has belonged to the same family for decades and has never been auctioned. Texan Johnie (Mrs. H.S.) Griffin, who summered in Ranchos de Taos, befriended Fechin's wife, Alexandra (Tinka), and purchased the present work directly from the artist.
Unlined canvas; diminutive spots of faint, hairline craquelure on the girl's forehead, right cheek and along the right side of her nose; several spots of very minor craquelure in the thickest layers of paint in the lower right quadrant; otherwise, the impasto maintains its integrity; there does not appear to be inpainting under UV exam. Framed Dimensions 19.625 X 16.625 Inches
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