The Beginning of Russian Lacquery

The Russian Art of lacquer miniatures is rooted in remote ages. It is a part of the rich popular spiritual culture. Lacquer painting is an irrepitable element of the artistic surrounding, in which the Russians live, ad their sacrament to the beauty of the world. The lacquer mainiature is notable for the elegance of its forms, fine brush mastery, color changes, the poetry images.
It is known that the lacquery appeared before Christ in China, then was brought to other Far Eastern countires. In middle Ages it spread in India and Iran. In the 16th-17th centuries lacquers were brought to Eourope and, having conquered the hearts of the Europeans, caused a steady fashion. Local lacquery began to develop.
The steady interest to the lacquers in Russia became apperant only in the epoch of Peter I (aka Peter the Great). In 1721 one of the cabinets of Monplaisir palace in Peterghof was decorated with 94 lacquer panels, made rather skilfully by Russian masters in chinese style.
The oldest Russian trade that has concerved up to nowadays is Fedoskino having its genealogy in Lukutino and Vishnyakov lacquers. In the 18th century a merchant P. Korobov founded a lacquer workshop in Moscow suburbs that passed to his son-in-law P. Lukutin in the early 19th century. At him and his son Alexander the factory reached its flowrishing. Its works, known as lacquer miniatures, got widely acknowledged, and they competed with the other lacquers in foriegn and intenational markets.

Resources: "200 Years of Russian Lacquery". Pirogova. Yantanyi Son. Kaliningrad, Russia, 1996.

Back to the Top.

How the Pāpier-Maché Articles Are Made

The basic material for making the pāpier-maché articles is cardboard. Thin sheets of this material are sliced on a special machine to specific sizes, glued and pressed together.
While they are still wet with glue, they are wrapped around carious forms and pressed into long tubes of differing shapes which make the boxes. The forms can be rectagular, square, round, or cylindrical.
When the material is dry, it is placed in a hot linseed oil bath for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, after which it is put into a special airtight electrical "oven" for drying. The drying process gradually takes the material from room temperature over a period of 30 days. This is a complicated procedure that requires special skill on the part of the people overseeing it.
When the pieces are taken out of the ovens, theya re sliced with a circlular saw into the actual sizes of the required boxes and given over to the joiners, who make up the required shapes with tops and bottoms which have been processed separately. Joins, hing-plates and sometimes locks are skillfully inserted at this point. These must be a material which is quite difficult to work with for these purposes. An experienced joiner must also be proficient at working with metal.
The semi-finished pieces are now covered with a black paste made up of variuos ingredients. Three coats of this paste are applied; after each coat the piece is placed in an oven to dry for one day at 90° C. The article is then cleaned and polished to a smooth finish with a fine sanding cloth.
Now the lacquering begins. The outside of the box is covered two or three times with a black lacquer and dried for a day after each coat. Then the inside is covered with two to three coats of red lacquer and again dried for a day after each coat.
Next the box is covered with several coats of clear lacquer, inside and out, and again dried after each coat. At this point, the preparation for painting is finished and the piece is given to the artist.
When the artist gets the box, the design is outlined on the cover, after which a coating of zinc or titanium is placed on it, and the actual painting commences. The colors are applied in strict succession.
When the painting is finished, the artist begins the gold work. Gold leaf is caregully crushed and ground by hand. After it is applied, the gold must be polished to give the necessary glow. This is done with a wolf's tooth, which has a remarkably smooth surface.
After the box is completed, it is given to the polishing department, where it goes throguh additional polishing and lacquering stages, all painstakingly done by hand with cloths if increasing finess.
From start to finish, excluding the time spent by the artist for the actual painting, it takes from a minimum of 45 days to sometimes as much as 60 days to complete the drying, polishing and lacquering process for the boxes, plates and plaques.
The above procedures are followed, with slight variations, in all four villages - Fedoskino, Mstera, Palehk, Kholui.

The question has often been posed as to why pāpier-maché is used for the articles rather than wood, which, after all, is readily available in Russia. There is a very good reason. After the complicated treatment of the pāpier-maché described above, the result is an article which will not be affected by changing atmospheric conditions, as is the case with even well seasons wood. What a tragedy it would be if a box which can take over a year to paint would split when taken from the atmosphere in which it was created to a place contients away. In actuality then, the pāpier-maché gives us an article that will never warp, crack nor craze, and a smooth base for the painting which even the finest wood cannot achieve.

Resources: Russian Lacquer, Legends & Fairy Tales. Lucy Maxym. Printed in USA, 13 edition 1995.

Back to the Top.

The Villages

Fedoskino

During the nineteenth century, Fedoskino miniature art took much of its inspiration from classical Russian painting, as well as from ancient Russian engravings and popular paintings. The Fedoskino artists also paint village scenes and folk festivals. They often portray scenes of popular fistivities and dancers in national costumes shown in the measured poses of age-old country dances. One of the favorite and constantly recurring subjects from Fedoskino is the careening Troika, "The Flying Troika" as Gogol called it.
In addition to these subjects, Fedoskino masters are inspired by the heritage of untold numbers of fairy tales, songs and legends.
Fedoskino artists use very thingly diluted oil paints, which are applied in several layers. Often before painting miniature, parts of the background are coated with a sheet of pure gold or silver leaf which remains visible through the translucent layers layers of paint, lending an unusually effective decorative appearances to the completed miniature. This technique is known as "trnslucent painting." Thanks to this method, the coachman's caftan or a girl's colored shawl and sarafan seem to light up and glow, a silvery sparkle is emitted in a snowy scene, the sunset shines like gold, and tiny little windows in far-off huts glow with light from within.

Back to the Top.

Resources: Russian Lacquer, Legends & Fairy Tales. Lucy Maxym. Printed in USA, 13 edition 1995.

Palekh

There are few art lovers who have not heard of Palekh. It s art has been called " a small miracle." Lacquered miniatures, as bright as the feathers of the legendary Firebird, originate here, taking the inspired poetic art of this village to the far corners of the world.
Icons found in old Russian churches attest to the glory of the painters of Palekh, who were famed for their Icon painting in ancient times. The secrets of this art were handed down from father to son. After 1918, the demand of icons stopped and the artists turned their efforts toward the making of miniature boxes, jewelry and panels.
Palekh artists do not use oil paints. They use tempera paints with an egg yolk base. This technique of mixing colors with egg yolk was used in ancient times by the Palekh Icon painters and is continued in the work done there today. The Palekh palette is remarkable for its gay colors and clean bright hues. The drawing is laconic and expressive. The expressiveness is achieved by the plasticity of every individual line, every contour, the rhythmic wealth of the compositions. On Palekh miniatures, just as in ancient Russian Icon paintings, people have somewhat elongated proportions, their movements are measured and graceful and they take the viewer into a realm of history, legend and song. To emphasize and single out individual forms, human figures, or groups of people, the painter uses filifree shading or golden riming, similar to gold inlaid patterns.
palekh subjects sometimes unfold in succession. One miniature may depict a number of scenes occurring consecutively in time and space. The same character or group of characters may recur in a composition several times. The Palekh masters often use all of the sides of a box, as well as the top, to unfold the subject as a successive series of interconnected compositions.
Palekh painters create miniautre on historic and contemporary themes. They, as well as the artists of other villages, are strongly inspired by the works of the great Russian poets and authors such as Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrassov, Gorky, bazhov, as well as Russian folk songs, bylinas ( legends), operas and ballets. Other favorite themes are fierce battles, the ubiquitous troika, hunts, country dances, and country occupations such as picking mushrooms, picking berries, fishing and walking in the forest. Many boxes depict the famous "Palekh Hourses," those fierly steeds invariably shown rearing up in a frenzy of mythological splendor, monted by knights in magnificent flowing cloaks or coats of mail.

Back to the Top.

Resources: Russian Lacquer, Legends & Fairy Tales. Lucy Maxym. Printed in USA, 13 edition 1995.

Mstera

Mstera miniatures differ considerably from those of the other villages. Their miniatures are characteristically done in pale tones, usually on an ivory background.
The scenes in Mstera miniatures are the river flood-lands, boundless fileds, picturesque vilages, far-away blue forests. Landscape holds a dominant place in the Mastera miniatures. This is not the individual lanscape motif almost invariably present in Palekh and Kholui works, but a general light an airy lanscape, known as "plein-air." Nor is it a 19th-20th century landscape resembling classical Russian painting to be met with Fedoskino miniatures, but a fairy tale scenery with blue rivers, ornamental huts and pink or lilac hills, which has come down to the Mstera miniature from the heritage of ancient Russian painting. Human figures seem to dissolve into the landscape.
As a rule, Mstera miniatures are painted on only the cover of a box; rarely is a box painted on all sides, but when it is it is exquisite. And almost invariably, the miniature is framed with a thin golden ornament made of vegetable color. On the most important pieces, pure gold is used for the ornamental borders.
Mstera artists produce compositions on a variety of themes: fairy tales and songs, historical events (from the life of Ivan the Great, aka Ivan the Terrible), floral designs, heroic battle compositions, and lyrical renderings of young people in love - at the village well, in the forest picking mushrooms and berries, on the street near their homes, at festivals and holiday fairs.

Back to the Top.

Resources: Russian Lacquer, Legends & Fairy Tales. Lucy Maxym. Printed in USA, 13 edition 1995.

Kholui

Kholui miniatures occupy an intermediate place between Fedoskino and Palekh art. They have much of the spontaineity and true-to-life veracity in depicting scenes of life characteristic of Fedoskino and, at the same time, many fantastic and exquisite qualities uniquely their own. Kholui masters paint miniatures in which the unity of place, time and action is preserved, but they also produce several independentely treated subject scenes united in one composition to convey a successive occurrence of events in time.
Many Kholui paintings are intensely romantic and lyrical, with great emotional appeal. The dominant feeling that permeates these artists' work appeals to be one of specific, exalted joy. their art seems to say to the spectator, "Look - isn't it beautiful!"
Black laquer is used as a background, as in the other villages. A very few boxes are painted on red lacquer, but these are quite rare and greatly prized. In Kholui works, in contrast to Palehk, people have more realistic proportions. Great attention is given to nature and landscape, particularly that of the village of Kholui itself, which is located on both banks of the picturesque Teza river. Many of the boxes depict the tranquil beauty surrounding the village.
The yearly floodings of the river during the spring high water season lends a special color to the landscape of Kholui, and its miniature painters are fond of depicting floods of the Teza and views of their native village in spring.
Kholui artists choose diverse subjects for their work: fairy tales, bylinas, contemporary scenes and, of course, the beloved poems and stories of Russian writers. Kholui artists were the first to paint miniatures dedicated to the conquest of space. The hero cosmonauts are presented in fairy tale scenes, riding their majestic steeds higher and higher into the sky and beyond, into unknown stellar worlds.

Back to the Top.

Resources: Russian Lacquer, Legends & Fairy Tales. Lucy Maxym. Printed in USA, 13 edition 1995.


 

Cweb Communications Logo Copyright © 2001 Cweb Communications.