“Nicolai Fechin: A Russian Master” at the Frye Museum

Nicolai Fechin, younger contemporary of painters like Monet and Renoir, isn’t a name that comes directly to mind when one thinks about European art in the early years of the 20th C. His wasn’t work that Charles and Emma Frye themselves avidly collected, but as the years went by, Fechin paintings and drawings were added to the Frye’s permanent collection.

Now, we have an opportunity to see just how important and thrilling they are. Thanks to clever curatorial work done by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, the Frye’s Director, we have an exhibition featuring 60 Fechin paintings and drawings, some from the Frye’s own collection and others from museums and private owners worldwide.

Fechin’s impressionistic techniques were greatly admired for their “barbaric mastery of form and color,” They imbue his paintings with mystery. His portraits, mostly of women in this show, look deeply into the soul of subjects who all seem to have secrets, secrets they are not yet ready to share.

This exhibition includes quiet landscapes of Taos, New Mexico, and Russia as well as many of his portraits. “Lady in Pink (Portrait of Natalia Podbelskaya)”, owned by the Frye, is one of the most arresting. Though she lived many years after Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, she exhibits the sexual ripeness and self satisfaction that Anna might have felt in her youthful days. If you go to Book-It’s current production of Anna Karenina, see if you agree.

Born in 1881, Fechin grew up in Russia, but moved to the United States in 1923, the year he had a solo show at Chicago’s Art Institute. Initially, he set up residence in New York, though ill health forced him to relocate to Taos, New Mexico. There he quickly became a member of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s salon where he rubbed shoulders and exchanged ideas with D. H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Marsden Hartley, and so many other intellectuals and artists of the time.

This is the Frye’s first overview of Fechin’s work since 1976 and well worth a visit.

Through May 19, at Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org)

Leave a Reply