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Russian Lacquer Boxes

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AUTHENTIC RUSSIAN LACQUER MINIATURES

Russian Lacquer Boxes, otherwise known as Russian lacquer miniatures, are a traditional Russian folk-art form dating from the late 1700's. Hand-painted, signed works of original art, done by artists in Russia who have attended one of 4 exclusive village art schools in Fedoskino, Palekh, Mstera or Kholui. Each school of lacquer miniature art has its own style, but all paint in minute detail on articles made from a type of paper mâché.  Usually painted with unbelievable miniature detail, these masterpieces are created with ultra-fine brushes, special techniques, and many miniature scenes are highlighted with real gold and inlayed mother of pearl before the final lacquer is applied tp protect the painting.

 

What is the history of Russian lacquered miniatures? 

Originally a "peasant art", Russian lacquer art with scenes hand-painted on common practical items like snuff boxes, tea-caddies, match boxes, eyeglass holders and even buttons and bushes, the art form which started in the late 1700's in Russia evolved into more of a fine art in Soviet times, with government sponsorships of the best artists and finer and finer works commissioned by the more elite. Originally, the Lukutin and Vishnikov workshops produced the early works, and were so branded; these works are still prized today by collectors of pre-revolutionairy Russian antiques. Fedoskino, a village near Moscow, established the first school and museum of lacquer miniature art in 1795 and remains one of the four centers of lacquer-box production in Russia, followed by schools in Palekh, Mstera. and Kholui villages, which were originally schools of icon painting. When the communist revolution inhibited religious art, the villages of Palekh, Mstera, and Kholui turned to the painting and production of lacquer boxes as the art form was flourishing.

 

Authentic lacquer miniatures vs "street boxes".

To be considered authentic, these works must have been produced using traditional techniques and materials by an artist that has graduated from one of the four official village schools. Another of the standards for an authentic Russian lacquer miniature is that the base article must be done on paper mache; which like other techniques of the craft have essentially remained the same for over 150 years. The blank boxes are made from a cardboard-like rough paper, formed, pressed, joined, impregnated with linseed oil, and then coated with a red ceramic clay before being baked in an oven to cure. The box makers, (many who are now the artists themselves) then apply two coats of primer paint and again cure the article in a low temperature oven. The process of making the box itself is very labor intensive and can take up to a month before it is ready to be painted.

 

Traditional Russian lacquer miniatures techniques, scenes, and styles.

There are four "styles" of Russian lacquer miniatures, each produced in a distinct village with its own school of lacquer miniature painting. Fedoskino is the only village/school that paints in oil; while Palekh, Kholui and Mstera were formally icon-painting villages and their schools use egg tempera. Other distinctions in color and style set them apart, but the tradition of miniaturization and fine detail are the same. The painting is done in layers, with drying between layers, building up the paints to get a fantastic depth of field. Many times real gold is used for highlights, either powdered gold is used to guild; or thin sheets of 24k gold are placed between layers of paint. Fedoskino village artists are also known for their use of inlaid mother-of- pearl to accent their scenes. Finally, each lacquer box receives multiple layers of hand-rubbed lacquer to fix and protect the painting.

 

Not just a lacquer box, but a unique traditional Russian gift and collectable

Russian lacquer miniatures are more of a fine-art form, like an oil painting for the wall, except each a detailed miniaturization intricately painted on a box. Each lacquer box is a one-of-a- kind (although scenes may be repeated, each is an original), and each is signed by the artist and inscribed with the name of the village school the artist has graduated from. If you are looking for the highest quality, traditional, authentic Russian lacquer miniatures, a unique Russian collectable, a one-of a kind Russian gift, select from our huge and ever-changing inventories. We travel every year to Russia, meet with the artists personally, and bring back only the finest in price and quality.