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Leonid Skvirsky

  • Leonid Skvirsky was one of the most successful photographic artists in Shanghai. His experimental take on lighting and staging of the models ensured him critical acclaim, awards in international competitions and patronage of the elites.
  • Leonid
  • Skvirsky
  • Leo Skvirsky; Леонид Владимирович Сквирский

  • 15-09-1902
  • 06-09-1969
  • Atlanta (US)
  • PhotographerIllustrator
  • Leonid Skvirsky was one of the most successful photographic artists in Shanghai. His experimental take on lighting and staging of the models ensured him critical acclaim, awards in international competitions and patronage of the elites.

    Word Count: 35

  • Vladimir Zhiganov. Russkie v Shanghai (Russians in Shanghai), Shanghai 1936. Sam Sanzetti, Portrait of Leonid Skvirsky at work, photography.
  • The driving force behind the Skvirsky Studio, Leoind Skvirsky was born in 1902 in Odessa (by other accounts, Vilna) and grew up in Harbin, where his parents moved when he was two years old. He studied arts at the Moscow Stroganov Art Academy and Petrograd Art School. In 1927, he was back in Harbin, working as a photographer for the China East Railway and earning 11 dollars a month. After nine months of this work, he was able to open his own photo studio, and his income grew exponentially. In 1931, Skvisrky assumed Lithuanian citizenship.

    Having moved to Shanghai in 1932, Skvirsky joined Sanzetti’s Photo Studio, which he bought out in 1935. His involvement changed the studio’s stylistic direction, moving from Sanzetti’s tranquil and delicately colorized portraits to a bolder, more dramatic and at times experimental style. Skvirsky also contributed designs to the productions of the Russian opera and ballet at the Lyceum Theatre. One of the founders and activists of the artistic society HLAM, Skvirsky had a private exhibition of his photographic art there, in January 1934, and his portraiture received praise for its psychological depth.

    Skvrisky quickly became the most sought-after photographer in Shanghai and beyond. Exceptionally well connected, he received commissions from Chinese oligarchs, ruling elite and diplomats, such as the Kung and Soong clans, Wellington Koo’s family and C. T. Wong, the Chinese Ambassador to the USA. Skvirsky enjoyed friendship of Shanghai’s foreign elite, such as Victor Sassoon, who was a passionate photographer himself. In 1937, by the invitation of China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek, Skvirsky took exclusive photographs of Chiang’s family at their country residence near Nanking.

    In June 1935, Leonid Skvirsky married the American actress Lulah Thompson (also known as Halsey Armstrong), his favorite model and muse, who readily posed for risqué photographs. In 1936, having left his Shanghai studio in the hands of the associates, Skvirsky headed to India and spent more than a year in Bombay (Mumbai). During that time, he reorganized the famous Hamilton Studios, increasing its revenue six times. He also won a countrywide photo contest and photographed Indian celebrities and members of the royal court.

    In 1938, in the wake of the Japanese attacks on Shanghai, Skivrsky and wife relocated to Lulah Thompson’s hometown Atlanta, USA. The photographer brought some 150 of his best shots with him, which won him acclaim and prizes in artistic competitions. Leonid Skvirsky died in 1969.

    Word Count: 396

  • Victor Sassoon (with a camera), Leonid Skvirsky and model Lulah Thompson, in Skvirsky’s studio, 23 January 1935 (© DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University).
    Sam Sanzetti and Leonid Skvirsky, portraits of Shanghai society women, Shanghai Sunday Times, 19 February 1935.
    Stamp of Skvirsky Studio (© author’s collection).
  • Zhiganov, Vladimir. Russkie v Shanghae (Russians in Shanghai). Shanghai, 1936.
    Kradin, Nikolay. Russie khudozhniki v Kitae. 236 personaliy (Russian artists in China. 236 personalities). Isskustvo i kultura Priamuria, 2 (10), 2011.
    Loewinsohn, Joseph. “Linking Shanghai and Atlanta.” Atlanta Constitution Sunday Magazine, 24 April 1938.

    Word Count: 36

  • Katya Knyazeva
  • Harbin, China (1904–1932); Shanghai, China (1932–1938)

  • 413 Hamilton House (now 170 Jiangxi Zhong Lu, Huangpu Qu) (studio); 153 Nanking Road, International Settlement (now Nanjing Road, Huangpu Qu) (studio) Shanghai

  • Shanghai
  • Katya Knyazeva. "Leonid Skvirsky." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 08-05-2021.
  • Semion Markovich Lifshitz

    Sam Sanzetti was a precocious photographer and portrait artist, whose signature style came to define the aesthetic of the Shanghai bourgeoisie. The portraits produced in Sanzetti Studio, masterfully retouched and delicately hand-tinted, reflected the growing fascination with Hollywood.

    Word Count: 38

    Victor Sassoon

    Victor Sassoon was a descendant of the Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. He contributed significantly to a real estate boom in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s and helped European Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto. An ambitious amateur photographer, he produced many images of people and events of the time.

    Word Count: 50

    HLAM – Society for Artists, Writers, Entertainers and Musicians

    As Shanghai’s largest and most popular Russian émigré association focused loosely on art, HLAM provided a platform for weekly encounters between the self-professed bohemians and a general audience. The HLAM evenings included theatre scenes, comic routines, dance numbers and poetry readings.

    Word Count: 42

    Lyceum Theatre

    The new Lyceum Theatre was designed in an eclectic style by British architects Davies & Brooke and opened on 5 February 1931.

    Word Count: 20