Lying on a sofa in a grey house suit, nestled
in German pillows.... he used to fiddle with some small object,
his old black snuffbox, its lacquer gone tarnished...."
That was how Russkie Vedomosti (The Russian Gazette) described
russian writer Ivan Turgenev in 1884. History has, surprisingly,
preserved for us Turgenev's favorite plaything. When leaving,
for the last time, Russia for Paris, where he was not allowed
to smoke or snuff tobacco, Turgenev left his snuffbox as a souvenir
with his friend, writer Yakov Polonsky. The Polonsky family
carefully stored that relic, which was then transferred to the
Pushkin House, that is, the Museum of the Russian Literature
Institute. Turgenev's snuffbox is still on display at that museum.
It is a small oblong black lacquer box, the size of two matchboxes.
Its lid is decorated with a picture of a sledge driven by three
horses, flying along the snow-laden field. Smartly dressed rosy-cheeked
young ladies are riding in the sledge, with a spirited coachman
whipping the healed horses. Inside the purple-lacquer coaled
lid bears a semi-obliterated picture of a gold double-headed
eagle with the letters "F. A. L." (Alexander Lukutin's
factory trademark) underneath.
village of Fedoskino, situated 40km north of Moscow on the
picturesque banks of the Ucha River, is Russia's oldest centre
of lacquer miniature painting. At least half of the inhabitants
of this village and the neighboring ones are in one way or
another connected with the traditional craft. The secrets
of making and painting papier-mache lacquers have for 200
years now been passed from one generation to another. The
French word "papier-mache" (literally "chewed
paper") is well-rooted in the Russian language. Several
layers of pasted cardboard, boiled in linseed oil and then
repeatedly dried in a hot oven, form an original material
- hard as wood, light and waterproof - that can be sawed,
polished, primed and lacquered. In the 18lh through the 19lh
century papier-mache was widely used to make sundry items
from peaks for the Russian army headdress to trays, tables
and even chandeliers. Needless to say, all sorts of papier-mache
caskets and boxes used to store matches, stamps, cards, glasses
and above all snuff were immensely popular.
The best jewelers were commissioned to make
snuffboxes, which at limes cost a fortune. By the end of the
18th century snuffing had become widespread - every shop-assistant
thought it a matter of self-esteem to have a snuffbox near
at hand. Demand for inexpensive mass-produced snuffboxes was
on the rise, and papier-mache proved a suitable material.
A host of small factories engaged in making snuffboxes in
Russia at that time. Among others, Moscow merchant Pyotr Korobov
also founded one such factory.
Pyotr Korobov's factory was the first in the
Moscow region. According to legend, Korobov went to Germany
to visit Johann Stobwasser's factory in Braunschweig and brought
back round painted snuffboxes to serve as models. The first
trademark appeared on the factory products under Pyotr Lukutin,
Korobov's son-in-law who inherited the factory in 1824. His
trademark consisted of the letters "F. P. L." which
stood for "Factory Pyor Lukutin." From that time
and throughout the 19th century until the factory was closed
in 1904, the Lukutin family owned the factory. In 1828, Pyotr
Lukutin was conferred the right to stamp his products with
the state emblem. The double-headed Russian eagle thus appeared
next to the "F. P. L." initials.
Alongside plain, mass-produced items intended
for the public at large and supplied to trade rows or shops,
the Lukutin factory also made things to order intended for
wealthy merchants and the aristocracy. Executed with rare
craftsmanship and delicacy, those products brought fame to
Lukutin's artisans in the first half of the 19th century.Miniature
painting was also on the rise in the applied arts, especially
porcelain painting (Gardner's porcelain factory, which was
located comparatively not far from Fedoskino, is worth mentioning
in this connection), in which genre scenes and pictures of
peasant and round dances were in vogue, together with portraits
and landscapes. Lukutin's papier-mache lacquer miniatures
were well-attuned to their time. Their conventional black
background, small size, planar composition, romantic and allegorical
scenes or sentimental portraits met perfectly well the aesthetic
criteria of the age.
Rivals to the Korobov - Lukutin factory appeared
early in the 19th century. Count Sheremetev's serfs, Yegor
and Taras Vishnyakov, opened their workshops in neighboring
Zhostovo and Ostashkovo, respectively, in 1815 and 1816. By
the early 1850s, twelve lacquer workshops were operating in
Zhostovo and nearby villages. The workshop of Osip Filippovich
Vishnyakov soon captured the leading position in the trade.
His earlier known works dale to the 1830s through the 1850s.
They bear the trademark "Master O. F. Vishnyakov"
inscribed in a circle.The history of two outstanding lacquer
productions in the Moscow region - the Lukutin and Vishnyakov
workshops - closely intertwined throughout the 19th century.
They competed with and influenced each other, exchanging craftsmen
and production techniques.
Lacquer miniatures of the Moscow region were
made with the help of multi-layer oil painting on the primed
papier-mache surface with special linin. Most of the Fedoskino
papier-mache wares have a black background on Ihe outside
and are covered inside with scarlet, bright-red or cherry-colored
lacquer. Papier-mache lacquers of the Moscow region were closely
linked to Russia's graphic art of that period. Miniature artists
mastered and copied drawings, engravings, cheap folk prints
and lithographs which were sold in separate sheets and albums.
Quite a few works have now been identified as prototypes of
miniature compositions used in lacquers of the Moscow region.
The theme of troika-riding was most widespread in 19th century
miniatures. A troika rushing through the snow-laden forest
and sledge riders are to this day a popular theme that has
become an emblem of the craft.
In 1904, Lukutin's heirs (the last, N. A.
Lukutin died in 1902) closed the factory. Some miniature painters
transferred to the Vishnyakov workshop, but many of them were
dissatisfied with the tough working conditions. The Fedoskino
Artel of Former Lukutin Factory Workers was founded in 1910,
initially numbering ten craftsmen, later joined by several
more people. The years of the revolution and the subsequent
Civil War took a heavy toll on the craftsmen and, for that
matter, Russian life in general. Workshops often stood idle
as a result of raw material and other shortages, and there
was little demand for the finished products.
That situation changed noticeably in 1923,
when the Ail-Union Exhibition of Agricultural, Industrial
and Cultural Products in Moscow, where Fedoskino wares were
awarded the first degree diploma "for superb artistic
skill" and another diploma "for preserving the craft
and high cooperation." Artel's products were exported
abroad and sent to international exhibitions. Fedoskino craftsmen
were awarded the Paris Exhibition diploma in 1925 and the
Milan Exhibition diploma in 1927”.
anniversaries of Soviet political and cultural life, which
brought major state orders, became landmarks in the craft's
history. Thus, a major exhibition held in 1937 marked the
centenary of Pushkin's death. A special series of caskets
centered around Pushkinian themes, with paintings by D. N.
Kardovsky, G. C. Chernelsov and G. D. Myasoyedov portraying
Pushkin or illustrating his works used as models. The miniatures
were accomplished by gifted artists from among the early graduates
of the Fedoskino school, including I. Bannov, K. Zorin, S.
Slesarev and N. Smurov, who brilliantly succeeded in copying
academic painting. Many of them, regrettably, were not destined
lo work long: They perished during World War II.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s The artel focused
primarily on copying works by Vassily Perov, Vassily Surikov,
Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin and other renowned Russian artists.
Some pieces, such as Vasnetsov's "Alenushka" were
easily transposed onto the surface of caskets. However, as
few easel paintings could be adapted lo the laws of miniature
painting, the more creative artists came up with their own
compositions. During that period V. D. Lipitsky, A. I. Kozlov
and M. G. Pashinin emerged as original artists, who turned
to Russian tales, such as "The Scarlet Flower",
"The Tale of Tsar Saltan" and "The Snow Maiden",
which was a new trend for the Fedoskino craft. Ever since
that time Russian tales became a popular theme among Fedoskino
artists, whose poetic images have lost none of their glamour.
Landscape miniatures gained prominence in
the sixties. The artists deftly transform shimmering mother-of-pearl
into glimmering water, sky al sunset or sunbeams piercing
clouds. The winter landscapes with silvery snow, spring landscapes
with a radiant sky al sunset and autumn landscapes with golden
leaves... Traditional Fedoskino ornamentation of boxes reached
extraordinary heights in the 1980s and 1990s. Today's Fedoskino
skan' is incomparably richer than Lukutin's artless designs.
Using a limited set of figured metal spangles - tiny circles,
corners, crescents and stars - latterday craftsmen create
an unlimited number of ornaments inscribed on the round or
oval lid of a box, girdling its prominent sides or just framing
Fedoskino painters also continue to develop
genre miniatures. They have shown far more freedom in recent
years in elaborating a multitude of themes. Unrestrained in
conveying their feelings and ideas, they turn out hearty works
of art. Historical and ethnographic themes are being extensively
added to traditional fairy tale, epic song motifs and illustrations
of literary works. The immutable charm of the native land
and continuity of the craft, which earns the artisans their
daily bread and sense of achievement, account for the longevity
of Fedoskino lacquers.