Russian lacquer boxes are among the most beautiful
and distinctive of country's art achievements in the 20th
century. The boxes feature intricately hand-drawn miniature
paintings based on a variety of themes, including fairy tales,
poems, country life, troikas, landscapes, battle scenes, and
old art masterpieces. They get their name from the many layers
of lacquer (most often, black and red) that are applied to
both their outside and inside sections. Coats of clear lacquer,
or varnish, are the last layers to be put on and provide a
stunning shine to the box.
Russian lacquer boxe can take as long as two
months to make it out of papier-mache, a material many artists
prefer because of its ability to withstand changes in atmospheric
conditions and to avoid cracking.
Lacquer artists must not only excel artistically,
but must also have the patience to spend long stretches of
time working on the many small intricate sections of their
composition. Artists will typically use strong magnifying
glasses on these spots and very fine brushes made out of a
The boxes most widely sought after come from
one of four small Russian villages - Palekh, Fedoskino, Kholui,
and Mstera. Special schools have been established at these
places where artists train for four years before they become
members of each village's art community. Each village also
has its unique style.
The village of Fedoskino, one of the centers
of modern Russian lacquerwork, is located in picturesque surroundings
of Moscow, on a bank of the Ucha. Fedoskino is a very old
village - about two hundred years renowned for its miniature
paintings on lacquered papier-mache boxes.
A characteristic feature of Fedoskino miniature
painting has always been a combination of direct painting
with glazes superimposed over a goldleaf, mother-of-pearl
plaque or over a ground powdered with metal dust.
Artists from Fedoskino use a more realistic
style of painting than the other villages. The most popular
themes of Fedoskino lacquered miniatures include the scenes
and sketches of peasant life, i.e. folk round dances, traditional
tea-parties and Russian "troikas" (three horses
harnessed abreast). The school of painters from Fedoskino
is distinguished from other schools by the lack of graphic
and flat manner of painting. They also use oil paints for
their drawings instead of the egg-based temperas. Three to
four layers of the oil paints, along with seven coats of lacquer,
are applied to each box before it is completed.
Mstera is a unique place in the eastern Vladimir
Region and is famous for its lacquer papier-mache miniatures.The
style of Mstera also derives from the traditions of Russian
icon-painting. It develops and deepens a realist perception,
and displays a variety and subtlety of palette, being picturesque,
ornamental and decorative. The delicate combinations of color
in the main drawing seem to glitter and glow.
Traditionally the Mstera miniature incorporates
cliffs, small mountains, hills architectural details and fantastic
decorative foliage as its basic forms and themes.
Boxes from Mstera, usually have the lightest colors. Artists
there almost never choose black for their backgrounds, and
instead use light blue, pink, gold or ivory colors. With the
addition of these colors, landscapes generally play a more
prominent role in Mstera works, and people and objects tend
to take a place within the background setting rather than
remain separate from it.
Peculiar and delicate Palekh lacquered miniature
art inherited the main features of ancient Russian icon painting
and folk art. Palekh style was completely formed only by the
middle of the 18th century. It includes some principles and
elements of different painting schools. In spite of the fact
that the church demanded to fulfill precisely every element
of icon, Palekh painters did it in their own manner of painting
faces, figures, elements of landscape, buildings, and carriages.
On the icons you could see some domestic details such as furniture,
clothes, arms, horse harness. Some of them have been kept
in today's Palekh miniature art, somewhat changed in a creative
Mastering Palekh painting technique is a durable
and hard work which permits to create painting corresponding
to a high image of Palekh.
From the very beginning of miniature art Palekh
painters made generous of folk motives. One of the mainstreams
of their art drew upon folk songs, tales by Pushkin, Lermontov,
and epics. The range of articles painted in Palekh was very
wide including brooches, Jars, small boxes, bead-boxes, panels,
spectacle-cases, tea-chests, glove boxes and so on.
Kholui, the youngest of the centres of lacquer
tempera miniatures, was first closely connected with Mstera
and then with Palekh. Yet soon the Kholui masters, themselves
also hereditary icon-painters, diverged from the strict artistic
system of the Mstera and Palekh centres.