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Nikolai Fechin was born in 1881 in Kazan, Russia. His professional art education started from the age of 13 when he enrolled in a recently opened Kazan Art School, a branch of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Later on, he married the daughter of this art school director. Art education of Nicolai Fechin continued at the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg where he studied under a famous painter, Ilya Repin.
In 1908, Fechin graduated from the academy in St. Petersburg and was awarded the Prix de Rome scholarship that enabled him to travel outside Russia to visit museums and art galleries in Austria, Germany, Italy, and France. In 1910 he won gold at the annual International Exhibition in Munich. Upon his success in Munich, Fechin was invited to show in the International Exhibition held at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that same year. Here his work came to the attention of New York art patron W.S. Stimmel, through whom Fechin began selling paintings in the United States.
After travelling to Europe, Nicolai Fechin returned to his home in Kazan to teach at the Kazan Art School, of which he eventually became the director. Fechin's American patrons Stimmel and financier John Burnham helped him to relocate to the USA and supported him with commissions. Fechin settled into a studio apartment off Central Park and almost immediately obtained a number of important portrait commissions. He also began teaching classes at the New York Academy of Art and exhibiting at the National Academy of Design, where in 1924 he won the coveted Thomas Proctor prize for portraiture. Soon after, he began exhibiting regularly at the Grand Central Art Gallery downtown.
In 1927 the Fechins moved to Taos, New Mexico, where they rented a house from socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan, who at the time was very active in the Taos art community and had encouraged a number of painters and writers to settle there. Fechin always thought that his move to America is temporary and often mentioned that he intended to return to Russia one day when conditions improved. However, he remained in the States till his death in 1955, working in Pasadena and Hollywood, as well as travelling and visiting Mexico in 1936 and Bali in 1938.
"No one can teach you how to paint and how to draw except you yourself. You cannot learn how to paint by watching a well-trained master painting, until you yourself, have learned how to paint with some understanding first. Only by the path of much practice and experience can mature results be reached."
"My way of drawing and painting can be taught only through direct visual perception and it is almost impossible to describe it. An attitude toward painting and a few technical fundamentals can be discussed, however - but always with a warning not to take my observations in an overly literal or rigidly set manner..."
"The artist must never forget that he is dealing with the entire canvas, and not with any one section of it. Regardless of what he sets out to paint, the problem remains one and the same. With his own creative originality, he must fill in his canvas and make of it an organic whole. There must not be any particularly favored spot in the painting..."
"To avoid murky results, it is necessary to learn how to use the three basic colors and to apply them, layer upon layer, in such a way that the underlying color shows through the next application. For instance, one can use blue paint, apply over it some red in such a manner that the blue and the red are seen simultaneously and thus produce the impression of a violet vibration. If, in the same careful manner, one puts upon his first combination a yellow color, a complete harmonization is reached - the colors are not mixed, but built one upon the other, retaining the full intensity of their vibrations."
"As a matter of fact an artist has to deal with only three basic colors: red, blue, yellow (all the rest are combinations of these fundamental colors). Everyone knows this, but few pay attention to the fact. Thus the first step for the artist to learn to see these primary colors and to distinguish them separately one from the other."
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