Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago – 1925 (Romola)

  • Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago 1925-11: Vol 19 Iss 8
  • BULLETIN OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO NOVEMBER NINETEEN TWENTY-FIVE VOLUME XIX Number 8

THIRTY-EIGHTH ANNUAL AMERICAN EXHIBITION

Thirty-eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture opens on October 29, to remain in the East Wing until December 13. This exhibition is always awaited and received with great interest, for it is index of the year’s achievements. Selected on a basis of individual excellence, it works as a group representative of the various tendencies and schools which determine the direction of American painting and sculpture. The present exhibition contains at least two works which will be hung in the permanent collections of the Art Institute, for there are shown for the first time a painting purchased for the museum by the Friends of American Art, William Glackens’ “Chez Mouquin,” and Nicholai Fechin’s portrait of Lillian Gish as Romola, purchased from the Goodman Fund. Mr Fechin, a Russian by birth, an American by adoption, will be remembered for his one-man show held in 1924, when he gave proof of a highly individual technique, linked with a national tradition. In the portrait of Lillian Gish, the Russian is subordinate to the individual, and we find a double feat, a painter’s appreciation of another artist’s interpretation of her. The pathos and grace which the actress brought to her part are retained, and this added an element lacking on the screen color. The lavender gown, heavy red books, and polychrome background are used for their full decorative possibilities. “Chez Mouquin” is an early work by William J. Glackens, definitely dated as to the decade it represents, and quite different in manner from the artist’s later more dashing style.

Romola – Nicolai Fechin 1925 – Painting Oil on canvas tacked over board, 125.1 x 114.9 cm. Private collection as of 2006.

“During that time, two sculptors, Dimitri Dirujinski and Boris Lorski, modeled busts of me. Nicolai Fechin did a portrait of me as Romola that was bought by the Chicago Art Institute. When I was in that city playing in Life With Father, it was hanging in the Goodman Theater. “ (Lillian Gish)

Nicolai Fechin and Alexandra Fechin with actress Lillian Gish and Erwin S. Barrie, director

Nicolai Fechin (1881 – 1955) also known as “The Tartar Painter”, was highly influential student of Russian master Ilya Repin. Fechin, along with John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, and Anders Zorn are the perhaps the most frequently cited influences on contemporary impressionists. But it is Fechin’s technique and approach that made his paintings stand out. Masterful with color and palette knife, Fechin used whatever he could, including saliva and his thumb, to achieve the effects he was seeking. Fechin would start with an abstract and bring it back to realism in select areas such as the face and hands, but his compositions, especially anything other than the center of interest, were generally abstract. Began paintings on plain, double weave Belgian linen, which was often attached to stretchers which he had made. He generally prepared his own canvases and seldom made preliminary sketches. 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 was the effect he sought, and he therefore did not varnish his paintings.

Lillian Gish admiring Romola portrait by Nicolai Fechin cca 1925 (Oil on canvas painting) – French Press HiRes

*** Fechin painted Lillian Gish as Romola in 1925 (oil on canvas tacked over board) 49¼ x 45¼ in. (125.1 x 114.9 cm.). Estimate $150.000, portrait was finally sold for $464.000 and is part of a private collection since 2006.

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