Nikolai Feshin is a Russian artist who miraculously survived his childhood

Oia in a peasant shirt (1933)
Oia in a peasant shirt (1933)

Russian artist who miraculously survived his childhood, left his homeland in the prime of his creative powers and died in abundance in sunny California

Nikolai Feshin (November 26, 1881 October 5, 1955) is a famous Russian painter of the first half of the twentieth century, an outstanding master of everyday life and portraiture. Feshin was also a talented graphic artist and sculptor, and at the initial stage of his professional career. He proved himself to be a brilliant mentor for young colleagues. The best masterpieces of the artist’s work, including most of his paintings, are now kept in museums in Russia and the United States, and the master’s biography is full of interesting facts.

Sunflowers (1934-1955)
Sunflowers (1934-1955)

Nikolai Feshin was a prominent representative of impressionism in the history of Russian fine art, but he spent a significant part of his life in exile. Soon after the October Revolution, the master left his native land forever. And went to the United States, where he very quickly managed to achieve recognition and commercial success.

Nikolai Ivanovich Feshin was born on November 26, 1881 in Kazan in the family of a craftsman. His father was a skilled woodcarver and the owner of a small workshop for the manufacture of iconostases for Orthodox churches. At the age of four, Nikolai almost died of meningitis, but still survived, despite the disappointing predictions of doctors.

Portrait of Lillian Gish as Romola (1925)
Portrait of Lillian Gish as Romola (1925)

Biography of Nikolai Feshin

After recovery, the lively boy became quiet and withdrawn, he avoided peers and liked to spend time alone. At the age of six, he became seriously interested in drawing and soon began to help his father in the workshop. After graduating from primary school. Nikolai entered the Kazan Art School, but soon found himself in a very difficult situation: his father went bankrupt, his parents divorced and left the city. Left alone, the young man was forced to provide himself with money on his own, but did not quit his studies.

Nikolai Feshin. Bali Girl (After 1938)
Bali Girl (After 1938)

After graduating from college, the 18-year-old Feshin left for St. Petersburg, where on the first attempt he successfully passed the entrance exams to the Imperial Academy of Arts and became a student of this prestigious educational institution. In those days, people from low-income families were entitled to certain benefits. So Nikolai’s education was paid from the state budget, and he ate in a free public canteen.

Nikolai Feshin lived in St. Petersburg for 9 long years, conscientiously attending classes and actively experimenting with different materials. Initially, he was assigned to the group of Professor Pyotr Myasoedov, but after the second year he was lucky enough to get into the class of the great Ilya Repin, who instilled in the student an interest in impressionism. Due to the catastrophic lack of money, classes in the classrooms Feshin had to constantly combine with the execution of random orders, and during the holidays he worked as a drawing teacher.

Nikolai Feshin. Portrait of Alexandra (1927-1933)
Portrait of Alexandra (1927-1933)

Nevertheless, in 1909 Nikolai Feshin graduated with honors from the Academy and received the right to a retirement trip abroad.

The young artist immediately took advantage of this offer and set off on a long journey across Europe. He visited many different countries, including Germany, Austria, Italy and France, and then returned to Kazan, where he was offered the position of a teacher at his native art school.

The most fruitful and successful stage in the painter’s creative career began. Nikolai Ivanovich combined teaching activities with painting, and many of his works were awarded at prestigious exhibitions in Russia and abroad. In addition, in Kazan, the artist became interested in portrait painting, and this popular genre brought him a good income. And in 1913 Feshin married his student Alexandra Belkovich. In this marriage his only child was born daughter Iya, who later also became an artist.

Nikolai Feshin. Iya Feshina (late 1930s)
Iya Feshina (late 1930s)

But in 1917 the happy life of the talented master came to an end. Immediately after the February Revolution, art in the country fell into decay and Nikolai Feshin had to quit his job at school. Together with his family, he moved to the village to escape from hunger and terror. At the same time, his father and mother died of typhus. Returning to Kazan after the end of the Civil War, the artist was forced to submit to Soviet power and earned his living by fulfilling propaganda orders.

Portrait of Ia (1923-1926)
Portrait of Ia (1923-1926)
Not wanting to put up with the surrounding reality, Feshin decided to leave Russia forever.

With the help of foreign friends, he managed to get from Kazan to Riga, and from there sail away by steamer to the USA. Upon arrival in America, he settled with his family in New York and very quickly managed to adapt to the new country. Thanks to old connections, the authoritative artist was hired as a teacher at the Academy of Arts. His works were willingly allowed to participate in exhibitions.

Even before sailing to America, Nikolai Feshin fell ill with tuberculosis and he had to make a lot of efforts to restore his health. New York’s humid climate was not suitable for rehabilitation. So in 1927 the master and his family moved south to the small town of Taos in New Mexico, where an international colony of artists was located. He bought a house, completely rebuilt the house according to his own design, became interested in the culture of local Indians and led a very calm and successful life.

Boy (1927-1933)
Boy (1927-1933)

But in 1934, the artist’s wife demanded a divorce, and he and his daughter moved to California, settled in Santa Monica, where he got a job as a painting teacher. Later, several times, on behalf of the American government, Nikolai Feshin took part in creative trips abroad, visiting Mexico and the countries of the Far East. In 1945, Oya got married and left for New York. The great master spent the rest of his life alone, wrote a detailed autobiography and continued to create until his last days. And on October 5, 1955, Nikolai Feshin died suddenly at the age of 73 in his studio right behind his easel.

Boy (1927-1933)
Boy (1927-1933)
The most famous paintings by Nikolai Feshin

The brilliant Russian painter has created more than 2,000 original works in his life. And yet, among the most famous paintings by Nikolai Feshin are:

  • “Cheremis Wedding” (1908) is a work for which the young artist received the first serious award from the Academy and a substantial cash prize of 1,000 rubles. The author depicted in the smallest detail the ancient wedding ceremony of the Mari, which made a huge impression on the public.
  • “Cabbage” (1909) the diploma work of the painter, created by him in his last year of study at the academy. For this skillful masterpiece, the graduate was awarded a gold medal and praised by critics in the capital’s press.
  • “Pouring” (1914) is the most significant work of the artist from among those presented in the exposition of the State Museum of Tatarstan in Kazan. The painting is a continuation of the “ethnographic cycle” of works created in the pre-revolutionary period of creativity.
  • “Portrait of Jack Hunter” (1923) is one of the first works written by the master after his arrival in the United States. On it, the artist depicted a famous collector who provided him with tremendous assistance in moving from Russia to America.

Nikolai Feshin lived a long life, full of hardships, difficulties and outstanding achievements. But in the memory of his descendants, he will forever remain a great master of painting, who created countless beautiful masterpieces of art.

Cheremis wedding (1908)
Cheremis wedding (1908)
Lady at the Manicure (Portrait of m-lle Girmond) (1917)
Lady at the Manicure (Portrait of m-lle Girmond) (1917)
Nikolai Feshin. New Mexico landscape
New Mexico landscape
Nikolai Feshin. Portrait of Vary Adoratskaya (1914)
Portrait of Vary Adoratskaya (1914)
Nikolai Feshin. Portrait of V.I. Lenin (1918)
Portrait of V.I. Lenin (1918)
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