Russian lacquer art
Russian lacquer art developed from the art of icon painting which came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia. The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes, needed a way to make a living. Thus, the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels developed, the items were lacquered and then hand painted by the artists, often with scenes from folk tales.
The four centers of Russian lacquer art
The village of Fedoskino (Федоскино), located not far from Moscow on the banks of the Ucha River, is the oldest of the four art centers of Russian lacquer miniature painting on papier-mâché, which has been practiced there since 1795. It stands apart both geographically, and in that that oil paints are used rather than egg tempera. While allowing the artist a free hand in impressionistic interpretation, the style of Fedoskino painting is largely realistic in composition and detail.
The other three Russian lacquer art centers are:
The lacquer artists of Palekh, Kholui and Mstera continue to use the technique of painting in egg-based tempera overlaid with intricate gold leaf highlighting.
All three are situated in the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality, Ivanovo region of central Russia, and are deeply rooted in the 17th-19th century icon painting tradition, which lasted until the Russian Revolution of 1917 and is now being revived by young artists of the 21st century.
The quality of lacquer boxes varies widely. Tourists are frequently instructed that a signature on the bottom of the box indicates that a master painted it. However, the reality of the lacquer box industry is that most are painted in small factories where signing another artist's name is no more difficult than painting in his style. Instead of checking for the signature of an artist that can never be confirmed, instead consider the actual quality and detail of the artwork. Many of the lacquer boxes produced in the Soviet Union have exceptional detail and command astronomical prices, yet have no signature. The myth of the signature is perpetuated by the people that sell the boxes rather than those that paint the boxes.
The Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art showed an exhibition of lacquer pieces titled Fairy Tales in Miniature: Russian Lacquer Boxes from the Lucy Maxym Collection. The exhibit ran from September 14 to October 27, 2013.
- Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art: Illuminations. Fall.