Nicolai Fechin was born in Kazan, Russia and became one of America's foremost portrait painters during the early 20th century. He studied at the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersburg and was taught to reflect the realities of Russian life in his art work. Fechin was highly influenced by Repin, who believed artists' work should be motivated by the idea of conveying morality and literal truth rather than just aesthetics. Fechin also learned to use broad brush strokes and to use his fingers in the paint to achieve a sense of texture. Later, Fechin moved to Europe where he was fascinated by the Impressionists' manner of breaking up color, and experimented with this style by painting with a palette knife.
While looking for work after immigrating to America in 1923, Fechin painted a variety of ethnic subjects he saw around New York, and often traveled in the summers to New Mexico. Persuaded to join their friends in the drier climate of Taos, New Mexico, the Fechin family stayed with Mabel Dodge Luhan for several months and felt comfortable in a community of adobe architecture, and Indians that reminded him of the Tartar of Kazan. Fechin's daughter, Eya wrote "He said the Taos mountains reminded him of the beauty he had seen in Siberia. He painted with fervor. He felt particularly close to the Indians and his greatest American works were of Indians."