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Guide to Russian Lacquer Boxes

Lacquer Box Guide The Making of a Lacquer Box Lacquer Art Authenticity

A Short History of Russian Lacquer Art

Portrait of Peter the Great by Tatyana Smirnova of Palekh
Peter the Great
by Tatyana Smirnova of Palekh

Lacquerware originated in China over two thousand years ago, and in later centuries spread through Asia. It was brought to Europe for the first time in the 16th century. Over the next two hundred years, artisans in England, France, Germany and Holland adopted this art form, and used it for miniatures with a more western style. It was Peter the Great who had the art brought to Russia. In 1721 he ordered the Monplaisir Palace at Peterhof (St. Petersburg) decorated with 94 lacquered panels which were hand-painted by Russian craftsmen.

Through the remainder of the 18th century through the 19th century, Russian artisans devoted greater attention to the production of lacquered items. By the end of the 18th century, there were lacquerware-producing factories around Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as the provinces. Russian artisans refined production techniques, most importantly adopting the use of papier-mache instead of wood as a material for their pieces.

In the history of Russian lacquer miniatures, the factories which opened in the Moscow area, especially the Lukutin factory, are of great significance. By the mid-19th century, Lukutin lacquer miniatures were highly prized by connoisseurs. The art depicted on these objects was exquisite: fine portraits, genre scenes, landscapes and folk drawings, done by specially trained craftsmen. Other contemporary lacquer workshops, such as the Vishnyakov factory, were also renowned for their products. The Lukutin factory was closed in 1904. In 1912 former craftsmen of the factory reopened it as the Fedoskino Cooperative Association, taking the name from the village where it was located. Surviving two Russian Revolutions, beautiful lacquer boxes continue to be produced by Fedoskino artists to this day.

The other Russian lacquer-producing villages, Palekh, Mstera and Kholui, began their craft following the Revolution of 1917. For centuries prior to the revolution, these villages had made icons, but they were forced to stop this when the state suppressed the creation of religious art. In Palekh, Ivan Golikov was the first artist to transfer the styles and techniques of icon-painting to papier-mache boxes in 1922. Soon Golikov and his fellow Palekhians turned to painting secular subjects close to their heart, such as fairy-tales and folk scenes. Similar transformations took place in the icon-producing villages of Mstera and Kholui as well.

Today, the art of these four villages, which continue to produce fine lacquer miniatures, is enjoying a broader audience, and it brings delight to all who have an eye for the rare and exquisite beauty of superb craftsmanship and fine skill.

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