Alexandra, and a lot more.
Nicolai Fechin painted this portrait of his wife Alexandra.
It’s a great painting and I wish we had a better photo with which to show it off. It was in my collection for many years, and it has an interesting history.
Fechin painted it on plywood in 1933, the year his wife divorced him. It wasn’t yet finished. Eya, (Fechin’s 19-year-old daughter, who moved with her father to NYC after the divorce), thought the painting was left with Alexandra in Taos. Alexandra figured Nicolai took it with him to New York.
But in fact, Fechin stored the painting in an antique Spanish trustero, and left it in Mabel Dodge Lujan’s hay barn, where it languished, lost and forgotten, for almost 31 years.
Nicolai died in 1955, and when Mabel died in 1962, Eya went for the trustero, and found the painting. It had a serious 4” horizontal scratch across the lower right bottom. I called it battle damage because of what that poor thing had been through. Maybe the painting should have received a Purple Heart.
It was the last painting the artist made in Taos, and the last ever portrait of Alexandra.
Eya sold the painting to me for $5,000 because she didn’t like the subject, its history, and certainly not it’s “terrible state of disrepair.” None of those things bothered me at all, and I never framed it.
I displayed the painting in my gallery on and off for years, as it was, and not for sale.
When my biography of Fechin hit the bookstores in 2001, the painting was illustrated in full page color on page 5. I even included a close-up inset of Alexandra’s left eye, so I could brag about how strangely beautiful it was painted.
When my wife and I started de-acquisitioning our art collection, more than 10 years ago, I reluctantly sold Alexandra to a billionaire for exactly 100 times what I gave for her, and I sold her too cheap. I didn’t take intrinsic value into account.
An off the subject side note.
I used to have 2 birthday parties every year for Alexandra. Her nickname was Tinkabelle, but I called her Tinka for short.
One day when we were in a pensive mood, she told me about her divorce. Fechin (she always referred to him as Feshin, with her heavy Russian brogue, and I hope you can discern the difference.) always needed absolute silence when he was painting, and that’s why he didn’t allow a phone in his studio.
He spoke unacceptable English in the beginning, but Alexandra was semi fluent. That meant he could do the painting, but she had to do the selling.
One day two ladies appeared at the studio door. They wanted each to buy a painting. Tinka put a finger to her lips and spoke to them in hushed tones.
When Fechin yelled “Shut up” the ladies took a few steps back, but their voices soon elevated above the artist’s acceptable decibel level. He jerked the painting from his easel and flung it across the room, hitting Tinka in the mouth, knocking her down and breaking her lip.
The ladies fled.
Tinka said she could have forgiven Feshin if the 2 ladies had not been there and seen that, but since they were there, she had to divorced him. She was still very Russian. f