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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum To Sell Three Paintings by Russian American Artist Nicolai Fechin

Sotheby’s New York auction of Important Russian Art on 1 November 2011 will feature three paintings by Russian-American artist Nicolai Fechin, offered on behalf of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The group will be led by Bearing Away the Bride, the most significant and monumental canvas by the artist ever to appear at auction. Founded in 1955, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture. Proceeds from the sale of the three canvases will help fund future acquisitions of Western materials.

Nicolai Fechin, Bearing Away the Bride. Est. $3/5 million. Photo: Sotheby’s

“The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has been the proud home for Bearing Away the Bride and the two smaller works being offered in this auction for several decades,” commented Chuck Schroeder,President of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “They are part of a larger collection of paintings by Nicolai Fechin that includes pieces more reflective of his tenure in the American Southwest. There he established an enduring reputation as an important element of that region’s rich artistic history, which is of particular interest to this museum.

Mr. Schroeder continued, “We recognize, however, that the subject matter in the paintings we offer in this sale is not relevant to our museum’s mission and message. After lengthy deliberation, we determined that, particularly in the case of Bearing Away the Bride, such an important work warrants placement in a venue where audiences with interests in historic Russian art, Fechin, and the era and location represented can have greater access. Thus, we made the decision to part with these elegant pieces in order to enhance our ability to acquire other works more in line with our collections focused on the American West, and to allow these particular Fechin paintings to find ownership with those who can take better advantage of their unique character.”

Bearing Away the Bride is the key painting from Fechin’s exceptionally rare Russian period that defined him as a mature artist, having arrived at the distinct style and ethnographic interests that would characterize his long and prosperous career. As rich in color and texture as it is in detail, the painting is among the most singularly- accomplished of his entire oeuvre. The work was inspired by Fechin’s travels to remote villages outside Kazan during the summers of 1906 and 1907, where he encountered members of the Cheremis (now Mari) tribes, among others. It depicts a traditional wedding ritual performed by the Cheremis in the village of Lipsha – and how that ritual had been transformed by the introduction of Christianity. According to native custom, the newlyweds would return to their respective childhood homes after the wedding ceremony itself, and remain apart for a full week. Fechin here depicts the moment when the groom returns to his wife and escorts her to their new, shared home.

The international popularity of Fechin’s work, and that of Bearing Away the Bride in particular, helped the artist connect with several American patrons, without whom he could not have emigrated from Russia to America in 1923. In the decade after its completion, the monumental canvas made waves both in Russia and abroad, and was first shown in the United States in 1911 at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. The painting caught the eye of famed New York merchant and art collector George Arnold Hearn, who purchased it on the spot. It passed through the Hearn family until 1932, when it was bought at auction by August Sonnin Krebs, former president of Krebs Pigment and Chemical Company. The painting later was donated to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame–now the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum–by his widow Helen Krebs in 1975.

The museum also will offer two bust-portraits that Fechin painted of Balinese women, both gifted by the estate of Vera S. Miller. Peasant Girl from 1938 depicts a smiling Balinese girl wearing a yellow head scarf (pictured left, est. $200/300,000), while Temple Dancer shows a Balinese dancer in an orange head scarf (est. $200/300,000).

About the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture. Founded in 1955, the 220,000-square-foot museum in Oklahoma City collects, preserves and exhibits an internationally renowned collection of Western art and artifacts while sponsoring dynamic educational programs and ground-breaking scholarly research to stimulate interest in the enduring legacy of our American West. More than 10 million visitors from around the world have sought out this unique museum to gain better understanding of the West: a region and a history that permeates our national culture. For more information about the museum, including upcoming exhibitions and events, please visit

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