Home Litterature Fairy Tales Bylines History

Russian folk art

French version Russian version


T he small town Kholui, known throughout the world as a center of papier-mache lacquer miniatures and famous in Russia in the past for its skillful icon painters, is thought to be one of the oldest settlements in the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality. Legend has it that the settlement appeared in the 13th century, when the Russian land was invaded by the Tartar-Mongol nomads. When they seized and devasted Vladimir and the nearby villages, people sought refuge deep inside the woods and on the swamps. They settled along the banks of the Klyazma River, felling wood, rendering habitable those remote parts, ploughing land, breeding cattle, hunting and fishing. The local people built churches, cast bells and painted icons. In toil and prayer our distant ancestors thus gradually developed those parts, which looked attractive at any time of the year. The beautiful meandering Tesa River continues to enchant with its full water in the spring, leafy groves, pine-tree forests and water-meadows covered with flower carpets in the summer, the felling golden leaves in the autumn and snow-laden boundless expanses in the winter. The special charm of those parts did not go unnoticed and became a source of inspiration for local craftsmen

Icone "The Virgin of Smolensk"

Anonymous author
Icon  "The Virgin of Smolensk"
Late 17th century

     The first icon painters of Kholui were monks from the Trinity Monastery, who taught local craftsmen the art of icon painting. The monastery archimandrite Afanasy have given an order to choose in Kholui ten children from 12 to 15 “…keen both of mind and of icon painting prowess, literate, and, giving them abode, food and clothes at the monastery, have monk Pavel teach them painting”. Kholui thus emerged in the late 17th century as the center of the icon painting tradition of the Trinity-Sergius Monastery. Icon painting developed fairly quickly in Kholui in the 18th century: demand grew with every passing year. Exceptional gift and profound knowledge of the possibilities and methods of tempera enabled artists to produce wonderful works of art.
      In 1882, the Alexander Nevsky brotherhood founded in Vladimir opened, in Kholui, six-year drawing classes, which were later transformed into an icon painting school. Icon painting, drawing and painting within the framework of the Academy of Arts curriculum were taught there. The activity of the icon painting and drawing school (1882-1920) was quite fruitful. 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. The school also laid the groundwork for the development of modern miniature painting in Kholui.

V.Puzanov-Molev.Icone  "St. Nikolas"

Icon  "Saint Nikolas"  Early 20th century

    Religion 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.
     Under 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. 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. Encourages by example of Palekh and Mstera, the painters of Kholuï , les peintres de Kholouï 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.

D.Dobrynin."At leisure"

Box. "At leisure". 1930

    The war which broke out in 1941, the temporary closure of the association and its art school, and the mobilization 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 focused on miniature painting. 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 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. That was in fact the beginning of Kholui lacquers.

 M.Rodionova "Summer"

M.Rodionova. "Summer"
Casket. 2001

     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.
     Lacquer miniatures are distinguished in multifarious Russian decorative, applied and folk art by their uniqueness and beauty, and the gift and craftsmanship of their creators. Handmade, labour-consuming and intricate, lacquer miniatures have much in common with easel painting. Nevertheless, these are pieces of applied art because painting here is utilitarian and inseparable with the object.

N.Baburine. "Mikula Selianinovich with Highwaymens"

Box. "Mikula Selianinovich with Highwaymens". 1963

    A lacquer miniature is an intimate type of art, the minute details of which may be missed in exhibition halls. Miniatures can only be understood and duly appreciated after scrutiny at close quarters. Kholui miniatures are easily understood because they are realistic, decorative and focus on the portrayal of the personality. New times dictate new approaches to icon painting, nourished by a great love for Russia's past and present, in depth knowledge of the sources, the inspiration and talent of those who have undertaken the arduous and noble job of reviving the traditions of old Russian painting. Kholui craftsmen are once again going through a period of dissatisfaction with their present accomplishments. Their creative quests aim to breathe life into icon painting and to produce miniatures on biblical and Gospel themes. These eternal themes of world art, which have for many years been banished from Russian lacquers, are being given a new lease on life at a confluence of past traditions and novel aspirations of local craftsmen.

E.Gratchev. Ecrin"Morozko"

Casket. "Morozko". 1993

© 2004  Artrusse    Email

  Lacquer miniatures
  - Fedoskino
  - Palekh
  - Mstera
  - Kholui

 The russian toys
  - Bogorodskoe
  - Dymkovo
  - Modern folk art toy
  Rostov enamel
  Vologda lace
  Pavlovsky Posad shawls

Attention - fake!
What is the authentique Russian Lacquered Miniature?

T.Milushyna. "Eudoxia, lift your skirts"

Box. "Eudoxia, lift your skirts". 1991

A.Kosterin."The Monster - Whale"

Box. "The Monster - Whale"
(after the tale "Little Hundchbacked Horse"
of P. Yershov}. 1978
T.Milushina. "Vassily Buslayev"

T.Milushina. "Vassily Buslayev"
Box. 1977

N.Gordeeva.."Ruslan and Ludmila"

N.Gordeeva. "Ruslan and Ludmila"
Casket 2003

A.Smirnov. "The Tale of Tsar Saltan"

Casket. "The Tale of Tsar Saltan"
(after the tale of A.Pushkin) 1994

V.Belov."Little Hundchbacked Horse"

Panel. "Little Hundchbacked Horse"
(after the tale of P. Yershov}. 1969

 A.Kosterine."Tsarevna the Frog"

Box. "Tsarevna the Frog". 1967


Plaque. "Svyatogor". 1966