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Lacquer Painting

Lacquer Painting

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 squirrel's tail.

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 way.

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.

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