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
Icon "The Virgin of Smolensk"
Late 17th century
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
Icon "Saint Nikolas"
Early 20th century
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.
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.
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.
Box. "Mikula Selianinovich with Highwaymens".
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.
Casket. "Morozko". 1993