About Russian Lacquer

     The Russian Art of Lacquer miniatures is rooted in remote ages.

 It is known that lacquer miniature appeared before Christ in China, then was brought to other Far Eastern countries. In middle ages it spread in India and Iran. In the 16th - 17th centuries lacquers were brought to Europe and, having conquered the hearts of the Europeans, caused a steady fashion. Local lacquery began to develop. First European lacquers imitated Far Eastern plots and manner. But in the 18th century at some workshops they began to paint the things realistically - made flowers, landscapes, genre scenes in the spirit of  Dutch masters.The Martian brothers Workshop produced such things in France (the early-middle 18th century). Similar enterprises appeared in the middle 18th century in England and Germany. The steady interest to the lacquers in Russia became apparent only in the epocj of Peter the Great. In 1721 one of the cabinets of Montplaisir palace in Petergoff was decorated with 94 lacquer panels, made rather skilfully by Russian masters in chinese style.

     Lacquer boxes are the most exquisite of all Russian art. They are hand painted with flawless technique in a tradition that goes back to Peter the Great, and can only be described as masterpieces. On them, are painted scenes from fairy tales, legends, history and other works of art. The artist uses a magnifying glass to paint. That is why the detail is so fine.  


     There are four great schools of Russian Lacquer art. They are named after the villages North of Moscow where they developed. Each school has its own distinct style.

     Fedoskino, the oldest school, takes inspiration from classical Russian paintings, folk scenes, etc. It is the oldest Russian trade conserved up to nowadays having its genealogy in Lukutino and Vishnyakov lacquers. In the late 18th century a merchant Peter Korobov founded a lacquer workshop in Moscow suburbs that passed to his son-in-law in the early 19th century. At him and his son Alexander the factory reached its flourishing. Its works, known as lacquer miniatures got widely acknowledged. They competed with the other lacquers in foreign and internal markets. The works were decorated with genre, historical, mythological, landscape, portrait painting. Very often they were free copies of well known pictures. The Lukutino lacquers were greatly influenced by Russian realistic painting.

The colors are subdued and representations are realistic. Artists of Fedoskino often use the striking technique of painting on gold and silver foil, mother of pearl and malachite with translucent paints which allow the effect of these materials to show through.

     Palekh in our times has come to denote a specific Russian school of art. It is often associated with very subtle miniatures decorating black lacquered boxes and brooches.Before the revolution Palech was a large trading village in Central Russia. Now it is an administrative cent re in the Ivanovo Region, situated on the slopes of two hills separated by a picturesque little river, the Paleshka.

     It was in the 17th century that the Palech peasants, serfs of the Buturlin's estate, took up various crafts and in particular icon painting. Icon painting as a cottage industry dates back to the 18th century. It involves a series of operations with different persons responsible for preparing the panel, priming, blocking, the art work itself, gilding, making inscriptions and finally, applying drying oil to the finished icon. Certain artists specialized in landscapes and drapery, with facial features reserved for the master "face painter".

     In the second half of the 19th century the Palech icon industry was practically monopolized by a group of icon painters headed by the Safonovs. They sent out dozens of painters to work in different parts of Russia on commission basis. After the Revolution the demand for icons fell and many of the Palech painters turned to farming. Nevertheless, the most talented among them refused to abandon art and sought alternative outlets for their skill. One of them Ivan Golikov, while visiting the Moscow Museum of Handicrafts noticed a paper mache box, decorated with a black-based oil painting done in the realistic manner. He decided to make his own paper mache box in the style that came most naturally to him...

     The Palech school of icon painting drew on the traditions established by the icon painters of 17th century Moscow, in particular those of the Stroganov school of tsar's iconographers and the Armory Chamber School. Thematically the art of Palech is closely linked to Russian and world literature and history. The subject matter is largely derived from works by Russian and foreign authors ranging literally from Homer to contemporary writers and poets. A still more important source of themes is offered by Russian fairy tales, legends and folk songs. The illustrative and narrative qualities along with the underlying rhythm and melodious tone are among the chief distinctions of Palech miniature painting.

     Palech was an ancient center for painting icons to adorn the churches and cathedrals of Russia. The Communists banned all religious motifs, so the Palekh artists turned to painting lacquer miniatures. Instead of oils, they use egg tempera. The colors are bright and vibrant. The figures on the paintings are elongated and are bordered with gold filigree. 
     Mstiora artists also paint with tempera. Like Palekh artists, they also paint scenes from poetry and fairy tales, and adorn their boxes with gold filigree. The colors are lighter and less contrasting than those of Palekh.
 Kholui, like Palekh, was an old center for painting icons. Unlike other schools, the masters of Kholui exercise more freedom of expression.

     There are two principal structural materials used in lacquer boxes: paper mache and olgolite. Paper mache is lighter than olgolite; however, it is more expensive. Lacquer boxes blanks can take from 20 to sometimes as much as 90 days for each article to make from start to finish, excluding the time needed for actual painting by the artist. In these beautiful boxes you shall store your finest treasures and memories. An almost impervious gloss finish protects for generations the hand-painted artwork.