Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin was a Russian-American painter known for his portraits and works featuring Native Americans.
Born: 1881, Kazan, Russia
Died: October 5, 1955
Education: Imperial Academy of Arts
Artwork: Spring in the Steppe, Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya
He began his paintings on plain, double weave Belgian linen, which was often attached to stretchers of his own making. His ground varied, not only from painting to painting, but upon a single canvas. In some areas he might use rabbit skin glue; in others, cottage cheese. The absorbency differences in the various sections of ground resulted in areas of high gloss and areas of matte finish in his completed painting. This is the effect he sought, and he therefore did not varnish his paintings when suitably dry (if they ever did dry).
On this ground, he would often sketch in casein. “Only after Fechin worked out a perfectly correct sketch was it possible for him to abstract form, shape, and color.”⁷ The upper layer was painted in oils, but this combination often produced severe cracking, long before the painting was complete, which, despite the look of spontaneity in his work, might take up to a month in the finishing.
Nicolai Fechin’s color palette:
- Lead or Zinc White (which he laid out the night before on paper towels to absorb the excess oils)
- Cadmium Yellow
- Yellow Ochre
- Burnt Sienna
- Vandyke Brown
- Rose Madder
- Emerald Green
- Mineral (Maganese) Violet
- Mussini Sunproof Rose
- Cerulean Blue
- Ultramarine Blue
- Ivory Black
He did not use a medium, preferring to lay in colors thickly (he absorbed the oils from all of his paints, one student observed), and allowing for visual mixing where pigments and textures overlapped. Colors were laid in from dark to light, with a very specific plan in mind. He also avoided too much use of the zinc white, as it made his colors too chalky and ruined the transparency of the pure colors on his palette.
The paints were applied with stiff bristle brushes, painting knives and his fingers. Often, he would lay the color in one direction with a brush, and then blend it with a perpendicular stroke of his painting knife.
If nothing else about his technique scares you, then know this: to achieve better flow with his painting knife, he would wet it before each stroke – with his tongue. The faces on his Indians were painted with his fingers, oil paint, and saliva… It is no surprise that he eventually suffered from lead poisoning.