The Kholui icon painting and drawing
school played an important role. Its most gifted graduated enrolled
at the Academy of Arts or the Stroganov Art School in Moscow,
did book design for Moscow publishing houses and worked as graphic
artists and painters. Some abandoned Kholui and icon painting
and gained prominence in other fields of Russian art. Most graduates,
however, continued to work in Kholui, leaving an indisputable
impact on the artistic level of icons and frescoes and fulfilling
the most important commissions. Their knowledge and superb craftsmanship
maintained and enhanced the prestige of Kholui icon painting.
The school also laid the groundwork for the development of modern
miniature painting in Kholui.
was persecuted and desecrated after the October 1917 revolution
and the Civil War in Russia. Together with churches and cathedrals-historical
and cultural monuments of the Russian people, remarkable icons
and frescoes were also lost.
Kholui's icon painting workshops were closed.
Kholui painters had to look for jobs, painting houses, cars
at railway stations, barges at piers, road milestones and
swing-beam barriers. Excellent painters were for long unable
to show their worth at that time of trouble and starvation
and entertained bitter thoughts of art.
the circumstances it was necessary to find a new media to
carry on the icon painting tradition. An idea emerged in Palekh
to form an association of icon painters, who would use something
other than an icon board or canvas and paint secular scenes
instead of the images of saints and scenes from their lives.
Palekh painters chose papier-mache, which was also used by
craftsmen in the well-known village of Fedoskino outside Moscow.
They borrowed the Fedoskino methods of making papier-mache
articles and lacquering their surfaces, but used the icon
painting technique to decorate their products. Little by little
progress was made. In December 1924 an Old Painting Artel
was formed in Palekh.
Lacquer miniatures on papier-mache emerged
as a new trend in Russian decorative and applied art, winning
recognition throughout the world. Fedoskino, in which the
craft has been developing for 200 years now, is the indisputable
birthplace of Russian lacquers. Kholui started to evolve its
own style much later, when some of its painters returned home
after long and fruitless quests and wandering across Russia.
Inspired by the accomplishments of Palekh and Mstyora craftsmen,
Kholui painters Sergei Mokin, Konstantin Kosterin, Dmitri
Dobrynin and Vassily Puzanov-Molev formed an association in
1934 to try their hand in the new media. Icon painting school
graduates, they were all talented professionals with vast
experience; Puzanov-Molev even held two diplomas: he graduated
from Moscow's Stroganov Art School in 1912. It took Kholui
painters a long time and a lot of efforts to develop their
own style. It had to differ from that of Palekh and Mstyora,
whose lacquers had already gained certain renown. The war
which broke out in 1941, the temporary closure of the association
and its art school, and the mobilisation to the front of gifted
young artists capable of carrying on the cause of their predecessors
largely delayed the development of Kholui lacquers.
On a government decision a vocational art school
opened in Kholui in 1943. Artists serving at the front and
in the rear were summoned to teach there, and appropriations
were made to equip the classrooms, to buy fire-wood, teaching
aids, clothes and footwear for future students. Another graduate
of the Leningrad Academy of Arts, U. A. Kukuliev was sent
to Kholui. He worked as the association's artistic director
and taught drawing and painting at the art school. The four-year
program focussed on miniature painting, which was taught by
Sergei Mokin (until 1945), Konstantin Kosterin and Vassily
In January 1947, the first post-war graduates
of the art school joined the association. They were fourteen
and included Nikolai Baburin, Alexei Kosterin and Boris Tikhonravov.
Vladimir Belov, Mokin's pupil, became their unofficial leader.
He was five or so years older than the rest of them and was
distinguished above all by his love for miniature, hard work,
imaginative thinking (very much like his teacher) and awareness
of the creative goals and obligations of his generation. Subsequently
art school graduates constantly joined the association's young
team of craftsmen, among them Nikolai Denisov, Boris Kiselev,
Valentin Fomin and Nikolai Starikov. That was in fact the
beginning of Kholui lacquers.
1952, the association stopped making copies of paintings,
rugs and portraits and concentrated on miniatures. It gradually
developed its own base to produce papier-mache and wares from
it. At the first conference held in Kholui in 1959 on the
occasion of the association's 25th anniversary scholars, art
historians and critics, as well as leading painters from Palekh,
Mstyora and Fedoskino, discussed a current display of over
200 exhibits and unanimously pointed to the accomplishments
of Kholui craftsmen. The general opinion was that Kholui had
developed its own artistic traditions and an inimitable image.
Kholui lacquers came into their own.
Ever since that time Kholui became known as
a center of lacquer miniatures, and museums, galleries, Russian
trading houses and foreign firms showed keen interest in the
works of its craftsmen. Kholui lacquers gained recognition.
Its painters produced both unique works of
art, which were bought by famous museums and displayed at
exhibitions, and models used to make small batches for the
market. Though less time-consuming in execution, the latter
nevertheless had well-balanced compositions and expressive
themes and images, were well-done, elegantly beautiful and,
what was of no small importance, quite affordable. Sales revenues
formed the association's economic base, making it possible
to finance creative activity and thus promoting the development
of Kholui lacquers.
That fruitful period saw the appearance of
classical examples of Kholui wares, including the nine-sided
casket Russian Warriors, the five-sided casket The Tale of
a Dead Tsareuna and the boxes Stone Flower and May Night by
Belov. In collaboration with Fomin, he produced another excellent
piece of Kholui miniature painting - the casket Urals Tales
based on Pavel Bazhov's writings.
Enriching lacquer miniatures with icon painting
traditions, Nikolai Baburin, who comes from a family of well-known
Kholui icon painters, was quite a success in evolving an original
style of his own. His casket Snow Storm and boxes Golden Cockerel,
Hay-making, The Lay of the Host of Igor and Harvest Festival
attract by an inimitable poetic vision of life and local nature.
In 1970, together with a group of miniature painters from
Palekh, Mstyora and Fedoskino, Baburin was awarded the Repin
State Prize of Russia.
Boris Kiselev, another holder of the same prize,
is also quite prolific. His works The Kulikovo Battlefield,
The Song of Oleg's Prophesy, Don Quixote, Ruslan and Ludmilla,
The Tale of a Fisherman and a Fish and Tsarevich Ivan and
White Polyanin graphically illustrate the painter's affinity
to the spirit of old Russian painting and profound knowledge
of its sources interpreted by the talented master in an original
Nikolai Denisov, who also comes from an old
family of Kholui icon painters, produced at that time several
memorable pieces, including caskets Sadko, Captain's Daughter,
The Song of Merchant Kalashnikov and The Tale of a Priest
and His Servant Balda. They eloquently demonstrate his creative
potential in carrying on the cause of the founders of Kholui
lacquers, on the one hand, andin producing innovative works
of art, on the other. Valentin Fomin, a 1950 graduate of the
local art school, was another leading master of that period
to show interest in national history. He scrupulously studied
historical details, using literary and ethnographic sources,
before starting work on his miniatures. He was also fond of
genre and fairy-tale motifs, as demonstrated by his Fair or
Snow-White. He depicted Afanasi Nikitin in India and Tsar
Peter the Great in Holland Building Ships in his casket Russian
People Across the Sea, elaborating the idea of Russia getting
to know the world and borrowing foreign experience for the
good of the Homeland. That, too, was an innovation of sorts,
giving birth to a new artistic tradition.