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Mikhail Kichigin

  • Mikhail Kichigin was Shanghai’s preeminent émigré artist in the 1930s and 1940s. He travelled extensively around China and Eastern Asia, exhibiting his work and conducting visual studies. A versatile professional and a respected art instructor, he influenced a number of young artists from the Russian diaspora.
  • Mikhail
  • Kichigin
  • Mikhail Kitchiguin; Михаил Александрович Кичигин

  • 02-05-1883
  • Perm’ (RU)
  • 15-11-1968
  • Yaroslavl' (RU)
  • ArtistDesignerTeacher
  • Mikhail Kichigin was Shanghai’s preeminent émigré artist in the 1930s and 1940s. He travelled extensively around China and Eastern Asia, exhibiting his work and conducting visual studies. A versatile professional and a respected art instructor, he influenced a number of young artists from the Russian diaspora.

    Word Count: 47

  • Mikhail Kichigin, photography, 1968 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
  • Born into a large peasant family in the Perm region, Kichigin studied at the Stroganov School of Arts and the Moscow School of Painting and Architecture, where his mentors were some of Russia’s finest painters. He was teaching at provincial art schools and beginning to earn accolades for his versatile drawings, when the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war prompted him to cross the border into China.

    Having settled in Harbin, Kichigin taught at the Lotos (“Lotus”) studio, where one of his students was his future wife Vera Kuznetzova. In 1928, they moved to Shanghai, and Kichigin started to show his work at joint exhibitions with the painter Victor Podgoursky, who was already well known to the local public. The China Press newspaper noted that Kichigin’s “very interesting paintings in water colors and oils” portrayed a wide range of subjects “both vividly and sympathetically.” In March 1930, after a particularly successful exhibition and sale of his work at the Royal Asiatic Society exhibition, Kichigin opened a studio at 188 Bubbling Well Road.

    Every summer, Kichigin and Kuznetzova travelled extensively throughout China, visiting monasteries, towns, villages and farms; they also took trips to other countries in East and Southeast Asia. They regularly exhibited their new work at the exhibitions organised by the Shanghai Art Club, where Kichigin was a member. Some of Kichigin’s work was lost on these voyages and, in autumn 1930, thirty of his recent paintings, representing an entire summer’s work in Peking (Beijing) and Tsingtao (Qingdao), were stolen from his studio.

    In 1933, Kichigin relocated his studio to a storefront in Bearn Apartments, at 10 Avenue Dubail, in the French Concession, where his next-door neighbor was his friend and colleague Victor Podgoursky. Always frugal and focused exclusively on making art, Kichigin was uninterested in material gain and personal comfort. As his wife Vera Kuznetzova observed, Kichigin was always either working or reading. The couple put up a canvas screen to make a small bedroom and devoted the rest of the space to work. With the help of the local fruit vendor, Kichigin invited models from the street and painted rickshaw pullers, coolie workers and monks. Once, he brought an aged beggar in tattered rags, had him change into a luxurious silk robe and painted him as an imperial minister.

    Kichigin rarely advertised his services as a commercial artist, but he always had a surplus of clients for portraiture, art lessons and stage design. All through the 1930s and 1940s, his mastery of every drawing technique and material continued to earn him acclaim and ensured his dominant presence at art exhibitions. The illustrated book Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai, produced by Ivan Kounin and Alexander Yaron in 1940, included thirteen of his artworks – mostly Chinese country landscapes and portraits.

    Kichigin was actively involved in the Russian diaspora’s cultural life. He was the founder and first chairman of the artistic association Ponedelnik (Monday), which eventually gathered on Mondays in his studio, at 10 Avenue Dubail. He produced religious paintings and frescoed icons for Shanghai’s Orthodox churches. He was one of the designers of the monument to the celebrated Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, created together with Victor Podgorusky, Emmanuel Gran, Jacob Lehonos and Wladimir Livin, which was unveiled in February 1937.

    When interviewed for Rubezh (Frontier) magazine in 1941, Kichigin admitted that émigré artists in Shanghai “survive, not live” and that the sense of national belonging was no less important than paints or inspiration. His artworks, executed predominantly in the realist manner, frequently turned to bucolic themes and Slav iconography, reflecting his peasant roots and his pre-revolutionary artistic influences. In Shanghai, as in Harbin, he instructed young artists, such as Thais Jaspar, Vladimir Tretchikoff, and Lydia Tsirgvava (future wife of the singer Alexander Vertinsky), among others.

    In 1941, with the tightening of Japanese military control of the city, Kichigin and Kuznetzova had to give up their studio on Avenue Dubail and spent the rest of their Shanghai years in a basement room at Erin Villas, 51 Route Vallon; there, many of their works were damaged by humidity and subsequently lost. While offering art classes at the Soviet Club and working as a decorator for the Soviet Consulate, Kichigin was persistently trying to repatriate to the USSR. He turned down a lucrative offer from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and proposals to immigrate to Belgium, Britain and France. In 1947, Kichigin and Kuznetsova sailed to the USSR; their luggage consisted of multiple crates of canvases and almost no personal belongings.

    The couple settled in Yaroslavl, where Kichigin faced accusations of espionage, narrowly escaping arrest. His presence in the provincial city invigorated the local artistic community and academic circles. From 1957 onwards, aided by his longtime Shanghai friend Alexander Vertinsky, Kichigin was able to exhibit his work again, although he did not return to painting the scenes from the Russian countryside and peasant life tableaux that he had missed in exile. After Kichigin’s death in 1968, his wife Vera Kuznetzova helped assemble the archive of his work at the Yaroslavl Art Museum, where his artistic legacy continues to be studied and to proliferate.

    Word Count: 848

  • Mikhail Kichigin, Self-portrait, drawing, around 1920 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Mikhail Kichigin in his studio at 10 Avenue Dubail, photography, Shanghai (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Mikhail Kichigin, Model in Traditional Costume, painting, Shanghai (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Mikhail Kichigin, Abandoned Temple, oil painting, Shanghai (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Vera Kuznetzova and Mikhail Kichigin in Yaroslavl, photography, 1968 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
  • Lebedeva, Tatiana. Russkie hudozhniki v Kitae: Mikhail Kichigin. Vera Kuznetzova (Russian artists in China. Mikhail Kichigin, Vera Kuznetzova). Yaroslavl, 2004.
    Khisamutdinov, Amir. Russkie hudozhniki v Kitae (Russian artists in China). Vladivostok, 2015.
    Kounin, Ivan, and Yaron, Alexandre, editors. The Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1940.
    “Kitay, takim on byl. (China as it was).” Yaroslavl Art Museum. 29 December 2018. Accessed 2 March 2021.

    Word Count: 65

  • Katya Knyazeva
  • Harbin, China (1920–1928); Shanghai, China (1928–1947)

  • 0 Avenue Dubail, French Concession (now Chongqing Nan Lu, Huangpu Qu), Shanghai (studio and residence in 1933–1941); Erin Villas, 51 Route Grouchy, French Concession (now 51Yanqing Lu, Fengxian Qu) (residence in 1941–1947); Salle des Fetes, College Municipal Français, 11 Route Vallon, French Concession (now Nanchang Lu, Huangpu Qu) (exhibition space), Shanghai

  • Shanghai
  • Katya Knyazeva. "Mikhail Kichigin." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 08-05-2021.
  • Ivan Kounin

    A self-driven journalist and a self-funded publisher, Ivan Kounin created several illustrated albums focused on the life of Shanghai’s international community, which highlighted the work of Russian artists.

    Word Count: 29

    Alexander A. Yaron

    An autodidact and a versatile commercial artist, Alexander Yaron applied his talent in portraiture, photography, interior design, advertising, layout and illustration. His best known projects were illustrated art magazines and books produced as part of Adcraft Studios, in tandem with Ivan Kounin.

    Word Count: 42

    Emmanuel Gran

    A stateless Russian Jew exiled in Shanghai, Emmanuel Gran rose to become the most accomplished and the most prolific of the diaspora architects. His projects included dozens of public and commercial buildings, apartments and villas in Shanghai and elsewhere in China; close to twenty of them still stand in downtown Shanghai.

    Word Count: 51

    Thais Jaspar

    Combining the vocation of philanthropist with that of an artist, Thais Jaspar was equally at ease among the foreign elites and Soviet diplomats in Shanghai. Her pleasing portraiture was much in demand by her friends and clients.

    Word Count: 37

    Vera Kuznetzova

    A native of Harbin and a resident of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, Vera Kuznetzova was among the most accomplished female artists of the Russian diaspora. Together with Mikhail Kichigin, she travelled extensively around China and Eastern Asia, exhibiting her work and conducting visual studies.

    Word Count: 46

    Victor Podgoursky

    Victor Podgoursky spent more than twenty-five years in Shanghai, working as an artist, teacher and designer. As a long-standing member of the Shanghai Art Club, he acted as the resident art critic and an instructor in life drawing and painting for the members.

    Word Count: 43

    Vasily Zasipkin

    Vasily Zasipkin was a prolific artist and and influential teacher, much loved in the diaspora. Having lost his studio and all his work in wartime Shanghai, he started over in Singapore.

    Word Count: 31


    Ponedelink was the most influential and the longest-running art society in Shanghai. Committed to promoting awareness of Russian culture and to developing its members' taste and erudition, it published the finest art magazine of the diaspora.

    Word Count: 36