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What is the authentique Russian Lacquered Miniature?

      For long time of its history Art of Russian lacquer miniatures has passed different periods: success, golden age and misfortune, stagnation that are natural for any art. Though in the last decades there was a distorted idea of lacquer miniature. There are several reasons for it.
      Firstly, the majority of works of the current period is not available for public, all the best and significant works go to private collections escaping not only museums, but also exhibitions. Secondly, several new workshops have appeared and they couldn't become worthy successors of united workshop which existed in Soviet period and guaranteed high quality of it's articles. Earlier a clear distinction was made between the mass production and the unique works, appropriate control was made on the state level.In conditions of the market economy nobody controls it, today different artists come into the art market, artists with different talent, professional education and skill. And rather frequently not the best of them make an image of contemporary lacquer miniatures.

       Thirdly, and this is most important, many mass imitations and falsifications appeared in the market and it was also negative for the image of Russian lacquer miniatures.

      Fakes - is for the sure the biggest and most serious problems of nowadays on the market of Russian lacquered boxes. They are absolutely everywhere - in the many galleries and gift shops all over the world, in many Internet sites, in many tourist places of Moscow. There are gift stalls in the airports and large railway stations too, with many inexpensive boxes. The salespeople assure that all of them are real Fedoskino, Palekh, Mstera or Holui boxes. How can an original box be recognized?
      The task of this site is to introduce the real Art of Russian lacquer miniatures to public, to show the authentic items, which can be recognized real high class works and process of painter's creative. We are going to help the customer to understand what is a mass copy production and what is original.
       There are four schools of Russian lacquered miniatures art: Fedoskino, Palekh, Kholui and Mstera. Actually, Fedoskino was the first Russian art school that adopted the style of oriental «lakwear». Artists of Fedoskino use oil-painting. This is the most sufficient distinction. The Fedoskino miniature is realistic. The three-layer painting technique used in Fedoskino provides depth and volume of the works. The painting look real and alive and you can almost breathe the air of landscapes and subject stages. Fedoskino lacquer miniature painting is a longstanding trade. It is more than 250 years old. The traditional technology of the papier-mache lacquer box making is maintained carefully. It is based upon the classical multilayer oil painting techniques used by the old masters. Centuries on experience have proven that Fedoskino boxes remain in pristine condition for many, many decades. They can become heirlooms passed from generation to generation. Palekh, Mstera and Kholui use egg tempera technique of painting. The point is that these villages have initially been icon-painting centers.

      The authentiques Russian lacquered items are expensive, but why? Making a box requires a lot of time and labor. The process before painting takes several months. Only the natural materials are used and all of them are rather expensive. The box painted by a master is not a souvenir but a work of art.


      Speaking of contents and esthetics of Russian lacquer miniatures one should mention technical sides of art, because it greatly determines it's quality. Authentiques Russian lacquer miniatures are painted only on papier-mache. It's not an accidental choice. This material has been used for many centuries and proved itself to be a good advantage. In contrast to wood, it is "stable" and is a solid base for lacquer painting.

      Many sellers offer boxes of "independent artists" who use newer "less traditional" materials, like orgalite (a fine-grain particle board, similar to masonite), and in most cases, these boxes will be sound for many decades..". Do not trust them ! Such "works of art" don't live for long. In the long run these boxes warp, painting "buckles" or cracks. Such "gift" won't give you pleasure.

      So it's good to check "the sound" of the box you examine. The cover should be half-opened and slightly clapped opening and closing the box. The sound produced must be soft and muffled. If the sound is clear and woody this box is most likely to be made not of papier-mache but of hardboard (pressed cardboard used in construction) or of some kind of plastic.
      For making different forms, on take porous card-board of conifer wood cut into stripes of different size and width and wind them up on blanks of different forms, each stripe is glued with a paste and then the form is dried under press, soaked with drying oil, and is dried again. The case, bottom and covers are made separately, and then joined. The finished item is primed, painted and covered with lacquer. It takes from one up to two or three months to «create» one item, depending on complexity of the form. Acceleration is impossible because the item must «ripen».


      By applying aluminium power to the lacquer layer, the paint applied over such a base will not grow dull. If transparent paint is applied, the metal powder will shine through; thereby producing an impressive effect.
Sometimes metal foil or mother of pearl pieces are used as a base to paint on. They create a glow through the thin layers of paint applied over them. Artist start a work by using tracing paper to transfer the lines drawing onto the primed base.
      "Underpainting". this is a start a work which carried by appling the first layer of paint to build up the basic colors and shades. The work is then dried in an oven at 60 deg C. This is neccessary because oil paint requires a long time to dry at room temperature and paints such as lamp black will not dry at all. After this first layer is dry, master apply a thin layer of lacquer and then the work is again dried in an oven.
     "Overpainting". In this step the details are carefully painted, the shades are deepened, and the light is enhanced. The work is again dried, relacquered, and redried. After each relacquering, the work is polished with pumice power. This removes all the small surface bubbles and roughness as well as prepares the work for the next layer of painting.
      "Highlighting". This is the last step or layer and the name speaks for itself. It is the time to put in accents, highlights, and the finest of details. Again the work is dried in an oven. We now come to the final step, appling 10 layers of lacquer which are dried in an oven after each layer is applied.
      The last step is to make the box itself look splendid. I use a small steel pen to paint an ornamental pattern on the sides of the box. After being relacquered no less than 10 times, the box must now be polished with the same oil paint named "green rouge". A slow turning polishing wheel is used untill a glassy even surface is obtained. The final polishing is done by hand. The box is now ready for display.
      An original box by Fedoskino artist is usually signed by the author in the following order:  Fedoskino. Year of release. Subject name. The author: signature. A copy is signed in the following order: Fedoskino. Year of release. Subject name (optional). Performer (optional). Signature. The original box issued by the Fedoskino factory has a serial number in this line. This number is included in the protocol of the art council. Sometimes the artist uses a semi-finished product (the box itself). These boxes are made by special request, not in the semi-finished product workshop of the Fedoskino factory. The manufacturing quality of such semi-finished products is often much higher. They may have original shape and have no trademark on the inner side of cover. In this case, the artist can put their signature, year of manufacturing and subject name here.


      Mastering lacquer painting technique is a durable and hard work which permits to create painting corresponding to a high image of Russian lacquer art. Learning at the art schools for 5 years, future artists get to know elements of the craft and only later, after many years of work together with experienced teachers, step by step, they master the essence of the image structure of the lacquer miniature, certainly mastering the painting technique. Future artist starts his training from copying the works that lets him to bring the painting skill to perfection. At the same time, he tries to create his own composition, developing the image-bearing way of thinking. Without it a painter is condemned to make merely copies, only changing and modifying them a little.
      When you are choosing a box it's not bad to have a magnifying glass. With this simple tool it is easy to tell painting from a card or a photo pasted on the box cover. The magnifying glass also lets you have a good look at the details. Rough and clumsy, "childish" painting means that this is not a work performed by the master of miniature painting. The case must be ornamented carefully, ornament details are to be painted impeccably.
      Here we are not talking about other more sophisticated attributes, which differ original box from fake. But we can mention them: a special technique in painting the naked places of people body (legs, arms, faces), special proportions of figures, special rules of painting mounts, trees, other floral objects. Every professional expert knows nearly each painter in Fedoskino and knows the unrepeatable style of all their works - so he can see the masterpiece and compare the signature of the painter with the style of current work and if it is certain difference - he tell for sure - This is fake! After having some experience of collecting and looking at the real ones, if you have a good eye for the beauty – you’ll got it yourself, before that - trust the respectful sources not the street vendors. Therefore, if a box costs less than $ 80 you'd better watch out.
      So be watchful. By the way: if you see a street dealer selling a Rolex watch for 50$ you won't even fancy that it is original. Quite the same is with the original Russian lacquer miniatures

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  Lacquer miniatures
  - Fedoskino
  - Palekh
  - Mstera
  - Kholui

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V.Tretyakov. "Great Russians"

V.Tretyakov.  "Great Russians".
Fedoskino.  Casket.  1994

 M.Chijov. "Harvest-woman"

M.Chijov  "Harvest-woman"
Fedoskino.  Box.  1950

V.Domakhin. "Peasant Wedding"

V.Domakhin.  "Peasant Wedding"
Fedoskino.  Casket.  1990.

A.Moshevitin.  Winter Forest 

A.Moshevitin.  "Winter Forest"
Fedoskino.  Casket.  1993

S.Kozlov.. "A.Pushkin and N.Goncharova"

S.Kozlov.  "A.Pushkin and N.Goncharova"
Fedoskino.  Casket.  2000

V.Sinelnikova. "RA Couple"

V.Sinelnikova.  "A Couple"
Fedoskino.  Casket.  1994

Y.Karapaev. "April"

Y.Karapaev  "April"
Fedoskino.  Casket.  1984