Nicolai Fechin Quotes on Art


Armand Cabrera
Born in Russia, Nicolai Fechin was Ilya Repins greatest student. Fechin immigrated to the United States in 1923 with the help of W.S. Stimmel, one of his American collectors.  The quotes are from the two monographs listed in the bibliography.

Artists and critics compete with Each other in their endeavors to destroy the traditional approach to the fundamental principles required for the careful technical execution of any work. In their mad pursuit of novelty, they do not have enough time for a conscientious development of their ideas and, as a result, they have had to make legitimate that which I would call “illiteracy” in the arts. Such an attitude in the art of our day is harmful not so much in itself, but in that it is used by intellectuals, by means of the written word, to influence the unprepared mind of the student. Youth is infected with a careless and irresponsible attitude toward the execution of work, with a sense of easy attainment, seeking to attract attention by shallow-minded novelties instead of real innovations and discrimination.

Any standardization is negative in its meaning. If conventional shades and colors are used, the ability to see them in reality is lost. It is essential that the artist should regard every new painting as an entirely special world of color, light, form and line. Every new canvas is a completely new challenge.

Fine painting is simply a matter of putting the right colors in the right places on canvas.

As a matter of fact an artist has to deal with only three basic colors: red, blue, yellow (all the rest are combinations of these fundamental colors). Everyone knows this, but few pay attention to the fact. Thus the first step for the artist to learn to see these primary colors and to distinguish them separately one from the other.

Concept or rendition: which is more important? That is a basic question in art. In the first case it is frequently said: “Not badly conceived but poorly executed!” Such evaluation is no credit to an artist. On the contrary, fine workmanship makes one forgive even triviality. In such cases it is said: “Stupid, but devilishly well executed!” This is a common rule. A high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominate place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value.

No one can teach you how to paint and how to draw except you yourself. You cannot learn how to paint by watching a well-trained master painting, until you yourself, have learned how to paint with some understanding first. Only by the path of much practice and experience can mature results be reached.


Nicolai Fechin
Harold McCracken
Hammer Galleries 1961

Nicolai Fechin
Mary Balcomb

Northland Press 1975

14 thoughts on “Nicolai Fechin Quotes on Art

  1. Love the quote about "easy attainment."

    The charcoal drawing of the man is glorious. Do you know the size of the original?

  2. Very intestering post. I'm not too familiar with Fechin but all the words you've included make complete sense. There is no easy path to high quality in painting, requiring a great deal of self disclipline and focus in a modern world where there it is harder and harder to find places that provide a rigorous training. I often find it funny that the best teachings come from some distance in the past. The writings of John F Carlson, Edgar Payne, Birge Harrison and Walter Sickert spring to mind.

  3. Fechin has been a favorite of mine for a couple years now, but I've never read anything about him, much less these quotes. Really inspiring.

  4. David,

    Fechin was a big hit in the US and had some important backers petitioning to bring him over from Russia. Dean Cornwell helped set up classes for him to teach and Cornwell even attended the classes as a student, Fechin was so well regarded.

  5. Jesse,

    I don't have particular size for that piece but according to my other books with Fechin drawings he seemed to work 11×14 to 18×13.
    This looks like more of an 11×14 size ratio, but I can't be sure.

  6. fechin recently became a favorite of mine after discovering him here in seattle at a small public collection — great quotes.

  7. I came across your blog during a recent google search, and have greatly enjoyed reading your archived posts.

    These are great quotes/excerpts from Fechin. I'm only superficially acquainted with his work, but he is certainly an artist who merits further study. His words are certainly as relevant and timeless as his paintings and drawings. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Sonya,

    There was a lively discussion about Dean Cornwell and Fechin in the post comments on my Cornwell bio if you would liket more info about him.

  9. Loved this post! And there were a few images I hadn't seen before… each of which stops me dead in my tracks, empties my brain, and leaves me dumbstruck with admiration. Nobody destroys me like Fechin.

  10. Fechin was a firey sort, kinda proud even in a way as his daughter described him…..people accused him of tracing, or going back to the studio and redrawing, and erasing and redrawing some of his charcoal drawings…so he went to using the rough watercolor paper so there would be no way to erase without leaving tell tale signs of scrubbing—just to satisfy critics of his amazing talent.

    Dumbstruck with admiration….sigh.

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