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    Nicolai Fechin (Russian/American, 1881-1955)
    Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher, and Bouquet
    Oil on canvas
    24 x 20 inches (61.0 x 50.8 cm)
    Signed lower right: N. Fechin
    Bears inscription verso: Still Life / Property of Alexandra / Fechin

    The artist;
    Alexandra Fechin, wife of the above;
    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.

    This work retains its original frame inscribed verso: Griffin / natl Bay 11/20 / Griffin

    Nicolai Fechin's still lifes rarely come up for auction, and Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher, and Bouquet ranks among the finest of this genre from his Taos period, the highpoint of his career. Suffering from tuberculosis in New York, after immigrating there from Russia, Fechin moved to New Mexico with his family in 1926 and immediately blossomed in the warmer climate; he painted daily -- still lifes, landscapes, and the portraits of Pueblo Indians and Russian peasants for which he is best known -- and pushed his dramatic impastoed compositions toward even greater abstraction. Indeed, Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher, and Bouquet is at first glance a kaleidoscopic mosaic of color: turquoises, umbers, greens, and reds swirling atop one another and reflecting light. With closer inspection, forms begin to emerge: a tribal woven tapestry with geometric motifs hangs behind a shiny wooden table topped with a clump of cherries and crabapples, a toppled over metal pitcher, and a vase filled with white bellflowers and yellow roses and daisies. Fechin's wife, Alexandra (Tinka), originally owned the painting, keeping it after their divorce and eventually selling it to her good friend, Texan Johnie (Mrs. H.S.) Griffin, who summered in Ranchos de Taos and built an impressive collection of Fechin works.

    Little has been written about Fechin's still lifes, but this genre formed a substantive part of his Taos oeuvre. Fechin worked on these compositions in between his portrait sessions, and he utilized objects found around his home: vases massed with daisies, pansies, poppies, anemones, sunflowers, peonies, and lilies; assortments of pears, apples, grapes, and corn; kitchen vessels, like tea kettles, pitchers, and plates; and Indian artifacts, from kachina dolls and pottery to woven blankets. In their casualness -- loosely arranged flowers, spilled fruits, and textiles tossed aside -- Fechin's still lifes exude an intense human presence, as if someone has just walked away from the table, leaving behind an empty plate with breadcrumbs. In fact, he treated his still lifes like his portraits, employing similar techniques of glazing and applying paint with his thumb or a palette knife, and crystallizing the central representational elements out of an abstracted background of vigorous brushwork. The powerful combination of jewel colors, active lines, and humanness in Fechin's still lifes imbues them with them with a heightened emotion not often found in the genre.

    According to Michael R. Grauer, in a letter dated October 28, 2015, which accompanies this lot:

    "Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the outstanding Nicolai Fechin painting, Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher and Bouquet, offered at your 16 November 2015 auction. As you may know I have been researching early Taos art since 1987, have curated and written catalogue essays for nationally touring exhibitions of early Taos art, and lecture on the topic frequently. Most recently I was invited to lecture on Taos art on four different occasions during the spring, summer, and fall of this year, during the village of Taos's centennial celebration of the founding of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915. Furthermore, I have personally examined countless examples of Taos paintings, including a number of Fechin works, and we have 10 Fechin works-eight (8) from the Johnie Powelson Griffin Collection--in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum collection here.
    "While hardly the household name of major Texas collectors of Taos art in El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, or Dallas, Johnie Griffin--the first owner of Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher and Bouquet--still ranks among the most important art collectors in Texas. Moreover, like her fellow collectors, her collecting taste followed national trends, particularly with European painters and eastern American artists. For example, while Houston's Ima and Will Hogg focused their efforts on American decorative arts and the work of Frederic Remington, respectively, their interests also included "European paintings, Native American objects of the Southwest, and paintings by the American landscape painter[s] George Inness" and Bruce Crane; as did Johnie Griffin. Moreover, a description of San Antonio's Marion Koogler McNay in New Mexico (whose home, Sunset Hills, and art collection are now the McNay Art Museum), could have been written about Johnie Griffin: "In New Mexico she became fascinated by Hispanic and Native American art, especially paintings by Navajo artist[s]....[and her] purchases became a vast accumulation of colonial New Mexico benches, cabinets, carts, chests, ornamental iron objects, and Chimayo blankets and rugs; Navajo weaving; baskets, and pottery." Like McNay and Hogg, Johnie Griffin was a connoisseur.

    "Although Russian émigré artist, Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955), was only in Taos from 1927 to 1933, when he relocated to California, Johnie Griffin continued to collect his work. Fechin's ex-wife Alexandra ("Tinka") was a frequent dinner guest at Griffin's home and through her daughter-in-law, Roberta Griffin, Johnie met the artist himself in Santa Monica, California. Johnie purchased paintings from both "Tinka" and Nicolai, and commissioned the artist to paint portraits of her grandson, Gary Griffin, at ages one and six. Eventually, Griffin owned at least eight Fechin works, including an unfinished wood sculpture of a Negro girl and one of only four egg tempera paintings the artist did in Taos.

    "During a year-long featured exhibition of the Johnie Griffin Collection at PPHM in 2008, we included a focused exhibition of those works still in the possession of Gary Griffin; this "alcove" exhibition included Still Life with Cherries, Pitcher and Bouquet. I have examined this painting personally during its time on PPHM's walls, and under intense magnification before it went on the walls. Knowing Fechin's work as well as I do, and knowing of his predilection for experimentation in -sometimes-incompatible media, I can write unequivocally that this painting is by Nicolai Fechin's hand, in my opinion. I stand by my record and by my credentials.

    "Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important painting."

    Michael R. Grauer
    Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs/Curator of Art and Western Heritage
    Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
    West Texas A&M University

    More information about Nicolai Fechin, also known as Fechin, Nicolai, .

    Condition Report*: We would like to thank Julius Lowy Frame & Restoring Company, Inc., New York for the following condition report: The artwork is an oil painting which has been executed on a medium wove linen canvas with its tacking edges intact and stretched onto a four-member stretcher. The verso has been infused with BEVA 371 - a thermoplastic adhesive - to stabilize the paint layer. The canvas support is age-appropriately oxidized and the oilbased ground and media layers are in stable condition. Ultraviolet examination reveals a fluorescence of small and careful inpainting covering minor losses. The surface of the work appears clean with a recent application of synthetic resin varnish present above the media layers. The work is inscribed on the verso: Still Life /Price $600 / Property of Alexandra Fechin. The artwork is in overall very good condition requiring no treatment at this time. Please note that in addition to the above there are a few areas of faint craquelure, mostly around the flowers.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2015
    16th Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,761

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