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Vera Kuznetzova

  • Given name:
    Vera
  • Last name:
    Kuznetzova
  • Alternative names:

    Beра Емельяновна Кузнецова-Кичигина; Vera Kousnetzoff

  • Date of Birth:
    10-08-1904
  • Place of Birth:
    Harbin (CN)
  • Date of Death:
    06-07-2005
  • Place of Death:
    Yaroslavl' (RU)
  • Profession:
    ArtistDesignerIllustrator
  • Introduction:

    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

  • Signature Image:
    Vera Kuznetzova, photography (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
  • Content:

    Vera Kuznetzova was born in Harbin, China, to a family of Russian settlers. During her school years she studied dance and performed on stage. In 1921–1927, she turned to painting and drawing. She attended the Lotos (Lotus) art studio in Harbin, where one of her tutors was Mikhail Kichigin, later her husband. She started to exhibit her watercolour landscapes and portraits and to receive commissions for illustrations and designs.
    In 1928, Vera Kuzntetzova and Mikhail Kichigin moved to Shanghai. Over the next ten years, the artistic duo maintained a studio there, while travelling extensively around China, Japan and Korea. During these voyages, they sketched and painted nature, people and architecture, and also met with local artists, observing their working techniques. The duo had exhibitions in Tsingtao (now Qingdao) (1929), Canton (now Guangzhou) (1932), Peking (now Beijing) (1932) and Korea (1932–1933), among other places.
    By 1931, Kuznetzova was a member of the Shanghai Art Club, the city’s largest and most influential art society, where her colleague Victor Podgoursky was a resident critic and instructor. Almost all of the Art Club’s biannual exhibitions featured Kuznetzova’s recent work from her travels. At a joint exhibition of ten Russian artists in April 1933 she presented her watercolour landscapes of north and south China.
    In contrast to her husband’s resentment toward exile, Kuznetzova found China endlessly inspiring, poetic and magnetic: “Its wonderful light transforms nature. Everything is soaked in sun; even the sky is warm.” She always sought to capture vivid colours and the intricacy of traditional décor. Among her recurring subjects were Chinese actors in traditional opera costume, theatre performances, bucolic scenes and dramatic historic events. Her ability to recreate Chinese ornamentation from memory was always in demand in her design work. She painted backdrops for Russian ballet and opera performances, such as Pavilion d’Arminde, Scheherazade, and many others.
    In spite of charging high fees and selling many paintings, Kuznetzova and Kichigin spent everything they earned on art supplies and travel. The couple lived frugally, occasionally having to survive on two boiled eggs for dinner. Their studio at the Bearn Apartments, 10 Avenue Dubail, was virtually unfurnished, save for a canvas partition for the bedroom and several stools.
    In December 1938, at a show at the French Club, Kichigin and Kuznetzova presented more than a hundred canvases; the critics remarked on Kuznetzova's pencil drawings of Chinese theatre sets and costumed actors. That exhibition was so popular that it was extended beyond its official closing date. The Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai album (1940), compiled by Ivan Kounin and Alexander Yaron, with illustrations by 20 artists, included thirteen works by Kuznetzova, including the illustration on the title page.
    In the 1940s, while the USSR was resisting the Nazi invasion, the Russian émigrés in Shanghai turned their thoughts and efforts to the cause. Kuznetzova contributed design and lettering work to the Soviet Consulate. After the end of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in August 1945, the Russian community began to disperse, and Kichigin and Kuznetzova sailed to the USSR.
    In 1950, Vera was arrested on trumped-up charges of counterrevolutionary activity – like many returnees – and sentenced to 25 years of forced labour. Chronically malnourished and forced to dig irrigation ditches in Kazakhstan, she was hospitalised twice. Eventually, she was assigned the duties of decorator, which included painting propaganda posters and murals for the prisoners’ barracks. Upon her release in 1955, Vera Kuznetzova settled in Yaroslavl with Kichigin, became a member of the Soviet Artists’ Union and started to exhibit her work again. The creative duo energised the arts scene in the provincial city. The Yaroslavl Art Museum, which holds a large collection of Vera Kuznetzova’s and Mikhail Kichigin’s works, has organised multiple exhibitions and conducted academic studies of their art.

    Word Count: 619

  • Media:
    Painters Vasily Zasipkin, Vera Kuznetzova and Jacob Lehonos in the Salle des Fetes of the French Municipal College at the Russian art exhibition, photography, June 1931, The China Press, 5 July 1931.
    Vera Kuznetzova, Official’s Tour, water colour, 1933–1936 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Vera Kuznetzova, illustration on the cover of the Projector Weekly Magazine, Vol. 41, 6 October 1934 (© Mikhail Drozdov).
    Vera Kuznetzova, Old Man with a Pipe, charcoal and sanguine drawing, 1937, Shanghai (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
    Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai,1940, p. 35. Vera Kuznetzova, Court Scene, illustration.
    Vera Kuznetzova and Mikhail Kichigin in Yaroslavl, photography, 1968 (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Lebedeva, Tatiana. Russkie hudozhniki v Kitae: Mikhail Kichigin. Vera Kuznetzova (Russian artists in China. Mikhail Kichigin, Vera Kuznetzova). Yaroslavl, 2004.
    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.  https://yarartmuseum.ru/exhibitions/kitay-takim-on-byl/. Accessed 2 March 2021.
    Kradin, Nikolay. Russie khudozhniki v Kitae. 236 personaliy (Russian artists in China. 236 personalities). Isskustvo i kultura Priamuria, 2 (10), 2011.
    Khisamutdinov, Amir. Russkie hudozhniki v Kitae (Russian artists in China). Vladivostok, 2015.

    Word Count: 80

  • Author:
    Katya Knyazeva
  • Exile:

    Harbin, China (1904–1928), Shanghai, China (1928–1947)

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

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

  • Metropolis:
    Shanghai
  • Katya Knyazeva. "Vera Kuznetzova." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2952/object/5138-11320444, last modified: 08-05-2021.
  • Ivan Kounin
    JournalistPublisher

    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

    Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Post mercury Co. fed. Inc. U.S.A.,1940. Ivan Kounin in the office of Adcraft Studios, photography, Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1940.
    Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Post mercury Co. fed. Inc. U.S.A.,1940. The staff of Adcraft Studios, photography, Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1940.Ivan Kounin, cover print, F. Chaliapine, 1936 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Post mercury Co. fed. Inc. U.S.A.,1940. Advertisement for Adcraft Studios, Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1940.
    Shanghai
    Alexander A. Yaron
    DesignerJournalistArtistPhotographer

    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

    Kounin, Ivan, and Alexander Yaron, editors. The Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1940. Portrait of Alexander A. Yaron, photography.
    Alexander Yaron, Along the ancient channel, print, Ponedelnik (Monday),1933 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).Alexander Yaron, portraits, drawings, Highlights of Art, 1938 (© Natalia Kounin).Alexander Yaron, poster for the Russian Ballet, 1936 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Post mercury Co. fed. Inc. U.S.A.,1940. The double page shows the covers of Adcraft Studios’ magazines, including Highlights of Art, and others.Yaron Studios, advertisement for Central Air Transport Corporation, China Weekly Review, 20 September 1947.
    Shanghai
    Mikhail Kichigin
    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).
    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).
    Shanghai
    Thais Jaspar
    Artist

    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

    Thais Jaspar, Self-portrait, drawing, around 1938, Shanghai (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).
    Thais Jaspar at her Shanghai home, photography 1930 (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar (right) in front of her work celebrating the victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War, photography, Shanghai, 1945 (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar (back row, right) teaching an art class, 1940, Shanghai (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar, paintings, North China Daily News, 19 June 1949.
    Shanghai
    Ponedelnik
    Association

    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

    A meeting of the Ponedelnik society, photography, January 1931 (© Amir Khisamutdinov). Vera Kuznetzova, Mikhail Kichigin and Vasily Zasipkin are sitting around the table.
    Cover of Ponedelnik (Monday)(© Amir Khisamutdinov).Severny, Pavel. Lady, Shanghai 1938. Alexander Yaron, cover design, Lady, 1938 (© Mikhail Drozdov). Pavel Severny and Alexander Yaron were collaborators at the Ponedelnik Society in Shanghai.La Renaissance restaurant at 795 Avenue Joffre, photography, Modern Miscellany (Shidai), no. 12, 1932.A. T. Hull, Jr., HLAM-organised beauty pageant Miss Shanghai in the Arcadia Cabaret at 291 Route Courbet, photography,1940 (© Time Inc.). Alexander Vertinsky is in the centre, Eduard Eliroff (with a ribbon) is on the right.
    Shanghai
    Victor Podgoursky
    ArtistDesignerTeacher

    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

    Victor Podgoursky, photography (© Nikolay Kradin).
    Street plan of the corner of Avenue Dubail and Avenue Joffre, where Podgoursky’s studio was located (© Institut d’Asie Orientale).Interior showing the card room of the French Club, postcard, collection of the author. The murals were made by Victor Podgoursky.Victor Podgoursky, Peking Street Scene, oil painting, 1938 (© Podgourski Family Club).Musicians, oil painting, photographed in Podgoursky’s studio, Shanghai, 1940 (© 2012 Mei-Fang Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, www.hpcbristol.net).Victor Podgoursky's studio at 6 Avenue Dubail, 1940, Shanghai (© 2012 Mei-Fang Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, www.hpcbristol.net).
    Shanghai