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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.
  • Vera
  • Kuznetzova
  • Beра Емельяновна Кузнецова-Кичигина; Vera Kousnetzoff

  • 10-08-1904
  • Harbin (CN)
  • 06-07-2005
  • Yaroslavl' (RU)
  • ArtistDesignerIllustrator
  • 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

  • Vera Kuznetzova, photography (© Yaroslavl Art Museum).
  • 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

  • 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).
  • 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. 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

  • Katya Knyazeva
  • Harbin, China (1904–1928), Shanghai, China (1928–1947)

  • 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

  • Shanghai
  • Katya Knyazeva. "Vera Kuznetzova." 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

    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.

    Word Count: 47

    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


    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

    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