The Russians are Coming

collecting-the-west“It’s strange that a little town like Taos, New Mexico, would get two artists from Russia,” said Frank Waters, an author who lived in Taos and knew both the artists.

Leon Gaspard and Nicolai Fechin’s paintings share a “strange Asiatic color sense,” Waters added, yet one painted impressions of Taos while the other, portraits of its inhabitants.

One such portrait, named simply Taos Indian, sold for $300,000, the highest bid on May 15, 2004, at Altermann Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Taos Indians reminded the artist, Fechin, of the Tartar tribes of Russia. Schooled from age 10-27 at the Imperial Art Academy in Kazan, he created a big sensation throughout Europe, but the artist and his family went into hiding during the Bolshevik Revolution. Red Cross of America eventually discovered the family and took them to New York City. In 1927, Fechin found a home in Taos, where he resumed painting portraits. Fechin’s work is closest to that of abstract painters, Waters said, who “are like sculptors, they look at the balance, at the structure of the planes. The same with Fechin. He preferred to paint old peasant people with wrinkles in their faces.”

Fechin’s contemporary Gaspard left Russia for Paris around 1899, studying modern art for almost 12 years before joining the French Army as an aerial observer. After his plane was shot down, he headed to America, traveling a bit before settling in Taos in 1918. He paints in a modern, impressionistic style, with a flattened picture plane, and his designs flow with great movement. “Subject makes no difference at all,” Gaspard once said about his art. “When I look at something, I look at it first in terms of color. Do I have a nice pleasing color scheme that’s broken by an outstanding color dominant?”

The artwork of these “two artists from Russia”?and others sold for almost $2 million.

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