Fechin was born in 1881 in the Tatar city of Kazan, Russia, located east of Moscow in west central Russian on the Volga River. At the age of 13, he attended the Kazan School of Art followed by the highly competitive St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was taught by the great Russian history and portrait painter, Ilya Repin. Fechin excelled in drawing and portrait painting. He experimented using the palette knife to apply thick layers of paint to the canvas while his faces maintained a stricter, realistic technical style.
Fechin and his family survived the Bolshevik Revolution and the emergence of the Soviet Republic. They arrived in New York City in August 1923 where he quickly obtained a number of important portrait commissions such as Willa Cather and Lillian Gish. He also taught at the New York Academy and exhibited at the National Academy of Design.
In 1926, they moved to Taos, New Mexico where a small community of artists was beginning to form, soon to become one of the major artistic communities in the United States. Fechin transformed their Taos home into an architectural masterpiece – today it is the Taos Art Museum.
Fechin died in 1955 in Santa Monica, California. He continued to paint and teach until his death. He always valued academic traditions in teaching art, most importantly studying and drawing the human form, but encouraged his students to be original and true.