Known as Bogoyavlenskaya Sloboda before
1917, the village now takes its name from the little Msterka
(Mstiorka) River, which flows through it, merging with the
Kliyazma. It is in Vladimir Region, but not far from the border
with Ivanovo Region, south of Palekh and Kholui, in breathtakingly
beautiful countryside - the one that forms the backdrop to
Techniques and Style
As one of the tempera villages, the preparation
of the paint is similar to the Palekh method, though in the
case of Mstera the artist would sometimes grind his own pigments
out of colored pebbles he would find in Msterka. Their miniatures
are characteristically done in pale tones, usually on an ivory
background. Colours are commonly more muted those of the other
villages with figures, sometimes elongated, against backgrounds
of light blue or other pastel shades, with landscapes predominating,
the trees showing a tendency towards Stroganoff style. The
overall effect is that of a "Persian tapestry".
Faces are usually "cartoonish", lacking the realism
of Palekh or Kholui. The use of gold is traditionally avoided,
except in borders, which are often intricate. Bylini (epic
stories) and skazki (fairy-tales) dominate the subject matter
of Mstera, though it has produced many classic boxes of political
topics and village scenes in the Soviet times.
Mstera in the Seventeenth Century was a mercantile village
with a flourishing trades in fish and salt, as well as being
a market gardening center. However, a lack of arable land
forced it to adapt to art and craft production for its survival,
notably icon painting, but also the famed White Satin Stitch
and Vladimir Colour Stitch embroideries. By the late Nineteenth
Century a staggering proportion of the population was engaged
in iconography and related trades.
After the success of Palekh Mstera was the next tempera village
to learn to transfer its art on to Lukutinsky. Initially,
though, a cooperative - called The Association of Former Icon
Painters was set up, but the work they did was mostly decorating
wooden kitchen articles and nested dolls. A second cooperative
was formed in 1923, but with little progress on the first.
However, under the impact of the Palekh experience,
two craftsmen went to Fedoskino in the late 1920s to learn
papier-mÁchČ manufacture, while two more went to the site
of Golikov's original idea, the Moscow Museum of Handicrafts,
to study the technique. In 1931 seven artists organized the
Proletarian Art Artel, which had grown to fifty-five in number
by 1933. Following a suggestion by Anatoly Bakushinsky, an
art critic who had also helped Palekh, the budding studio
expanded on the border decorations which had been the characteristic
feature of Mstera icon painting, and was to characterize its
new medium also. At first the Mstera artists were dogged by
an inability to break free from the strictures of iconography,
a situation from which they were extricated by the "troika"
of three painters: N.P. Klykov, A.F. Kotiagin and A.I. Briagin.
After the Perestroika era, Mstera was the most
well known place among the four villages for the plenty cheap
copies and even imitations of the other schools, which ruined
the prices for the Mstera painters’ boxes, but for sure there
were and specially are nowadays dozens of creative and talented
masters. Old Mstera boxes before ‘50s are extremely rare.
Special place in Mstera painting takes icon
painting. As it has some specific features. This tradition
was held by Byzantine art, the successors of which were first
and foremost the Vladimir and Suzdal icon painters.The Byzantine
technique of painting with flux and Byzantine icon painting
was preserved in Mstera for many centuries, right up until
the start of the 20th century.
In Russia, at the end of the 19th century
and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was no accident
that the creation and development of the science of restoration
of ancient Russian art was closely associated with the names
of the Mstera icon-painters and restorers. It was they who
became the main medium for the reintroduction of "forgotten"
ancient Russian art among the St. Petersburg and Moscow professors
of the history of art. Almost the whole Mstera population
was involved to some extent with the icon-painting industry.
As a rule, icon-painting workshops were handed down from generation
to generation and were a family business. One of the largest
icon-painting workshops was that of Suslov (a man who came
from the shores of the White Sea) and the oldest was that
of the Old Believer, Yantsev.
After the revolution, the private icon-painting
workshops in Mstera were closed. The hungry years after the
revolution forced many inhabitants of Mstera to move to the
bread basket provinces. But the majority stayed on in their
home town of Mstera, where a new life was gradually starting
to come into being. In January 1923, the first group of former
Mstera icon-painters was formed.
In January 1931, the cooperative decided to
send a group of artists to Moscow to study papier-mache art.
In addition another group was sent to Fedoskino to study lacquering
and polishing. It was then that a group of artists was formed
to paint objects made out of papier-mache. The 1930's played
a very important role in the further development of the genre.
This was because the art of miniature lacquer painting was
based on the traditions of Mstera icon-painting, which had
existed in that area for many centuries and the experienced
icon-painters and restorers became the basis for this new
The leading Mstera artist among the painters
of miniatures should by right be Nikolai Klykov (1861-1944).
It was he, who for a long time was the driving force behind
the search for an original style for the Mstera lacquered
miniatures. His former way of life no longer existed and he
was forced to find new ways of developing Mstera art. In his
early work, he used the traditions of the ancient Russian
miniatures of the 15th to 16th centuries. The most attractive
style for the artists was the Stroganov style. He believed
that the great delicacy and colourful variety of this style
was most ideally suited to papier-mache miniatures.
is characteristic for the period of "atheism", that
the Mstera artists did not stop depicting the sky in their
miniature lacquered works (unlike the Palekh artists who started
to paint on black lacquer). In this way, they were able to
keep their spiritual traditions going back to icon-painting,
in which the depiction of the sky as the real and celestial
frontier of this world, had enormous meaning. The 30's see
many topical works by N.P.Klykov. And it is here that we see
a harmonious, stable and colourful way of life. Klykov painted
works depicting Russian folk tales and episodes from the works
of Russian writers, but hardly changed the landscapes in which
his contemporary heroes found themselves. In 1937, at the
World Exhibition in Paris, Klykov's work "Dubrovsky",
received a diploma and a gold medal.
The second generation of Mstera miniature
artists were born after the revolution and were trained at
the technical and artistic school that had been set up in
1932. Besides, the creative talents of these young miniaturists
was interrupted by the Second World War. New period for the
development of Mstera miniature lacquered art was the start
of the 1960s. At that time, the visual arts, witch also included
lacquered miniatures, were under the influence of the so-called
“sever style”, with its generalizations, laconism and emphasized
In the 1970's, the development of Mstera lacquered
miniature painting went along the lines of not so much rejection
of the old aesthetic ideals, but the creation of positive
programs for its further development. The new generation of
artists, who replaced those of the 60's, had no declared program,
but on the other hand, they had a strong desire to express
their own creative individuality. At the beginning of the
third millennium, there has been a flowering of Mstera art,
that is of icon painting and lacquering miniatures painting.
The creativity of the young artists make it possible to look
at Mstera art in term of an open system which is looking to