What is the authentique Russian Lacquered Miniature?
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. Palekh, Mstera and Kholui use egg tempera
technique of painting. The point is that these villages
have initially been icon-painting centers. In Palekh the
icons "for the rich" were produced with use of
triple nine gold, finest painting and very detailed development
of all objects. Mstera and Kholui icons were produced for
the middle class. People, animals and landscape elements
are stylized and preserved the icon style in this boxes,
though the subject changed.
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.
WHAT THE BOX IS MADE OF
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.
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».
HOW THE MINIATURE IS PAINTED
the item has to be painted. Very often painter himself offers
a sketch of the item, proceeding from the idea of the miniature
as far as its form is a part of the created image. Before
painting the artist prepares paints and gold. Every painter
makes it himself. For preparation of egg tempera, a fresh
egg yolk is taken, then the yolk is carefully punctured
content is usually poured into an eggshell some water with
vinegar is added, and then different dyestuff is supplemented
into this mixture.
Egg tempera is usually
prepared for not more than 3 days. At the beginning, the
artist: paint with whiting, making the whole composition.
Already at this stage they lay down the foundation of the
colour decision of the miniature. They put several layers
of whiting on the places which will have clear tones. Then
the colour is added. This stage is called «Roskrish”.
Then the painting is started.
All outlines and details
are painted with a dark tone, and all shady and light parts
of the composition are revealed. This process is called
«Priplavka». The last stage is a final dressing
of displayed objects. It is done by «blanking»,
i.e. by lines which are applied in definite system in three
tones in accordance to «Roskrish», painting
and shades of «Priplavka».
In miniature painting
it is important to use «Plavi» technique, a
skill to combine data and to be able to use «blank»
painting technique. «Plavi» technique is a multiplayer
painting where bottom layers are seen through upper layers,
modeling the form and adding a live elasticity to the picture.
There are four main types of the «blanks»: blanks
by «Ikonop» (with specks and straight dash-lines),
«bristle» (consists of thin golden lines), blank
with paint - one of the oldest, which is applied in three
tones, and very original and nice «feather»
blank by which folds of the clothes are usually made. And
painting is finished with tinsel and «silver».
Instead of silver aluminium is used, which can be polished
gold» from gold leaf. It is clear that every painter
has his own secret. They put 2 grams of gum arabic into
a saucer and add a few drops of water, everything is mixed
by a forefinger, until homogeneous adhesive paste is achieved
and then with the same forefinger they take gold leaf and
put it into the saucer. With vertical up and down movements
they divide it into small particles which little by little
get absorbed in the adhesive paste.
This procedure has to
be extremely careful, only vertical movement should be executed,
otherwise gold may become sticky into small lumps. Then
they ground gold for 1,5 hours, add some water, 2 grams
of gum arabic and «make» gold again. After that
they add 1/3 glass of water into the mixture and let it
settle for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes water is poured
off and gold dried being kept above a lamp. The whole procedure
should be executed in conditions of exceptional neatness.
The lack or excess of gum arabic not only prevents making
gold but adversely affects the process of painting with
gold. The given «formula» of gold making is
practically tested and is optimal.
After applying gold
on the painting it is polished with a tooth of a wild animal,
usually wolf or wild boar or by agate. For painting artists
use six brushes of different size. For gold painting the
thinnest brush is used. First it is dipped into water and
then into gold. For aluminium and bronze painting (it is
usually a powder) a longer and more careful grinding for
several hours is necessary. Mostly the procedure is the
same as in «gold making». Methods of gold and
silver painting are different in the system of laying of
lines and dash-lines for final exposition of forms and decoration
of all elements of the composition and also for decoration
of the item with ornament. The ornament in Mstera miniature
is in harmony with the content, rhythm, and decorative order
of the miniature and presents its final element.
Situated on the right
bank of the river Klyazma, Mstera is one of the most ancient
settlements of the Vladimir region. Having at one time been
covered by impenetrable forests, this area was settled by
Finnish tribes. Mstera itself means black osier bed or black
wood (although the river here was once called by the same
name). In the 12th century, during the period of Slav colonization,
an invading prince and his army, accompanied by a priest,
put up a Christian church on the banks of the river Mstera
and brought Byzantine icons with them. But it took several
centuries for the development of the original Mstera icon
painting style. Mstera, which was a long way from the cities
that had been destroyed by the Tartars, became the successor
to the amazingly rich traditions of the "princes".
At a time when other centres of the ancient Russian state
were being subjected to new trends and influences in art,
Mstera stayed true to the main elements of its ancient culture.
One cannot find such fidelity to the artistic traditions
of Byzantium in any other icon-painting centre of the Russia.
Since it was not possible to depict iconic subjects, Mstera's
artists came to show God through nature, which in the interpretation
of the miniaturist was primordial, majestic and inspired
by God's Grace.
It is characteristic for the soviet period,
that the Mstera artists did not stop depicting the sky in
their miniature lacquered works (unlike the Palekh artists
who started to paint on black lacquer). In this way, they
were able to keep their spiritual traditions going back
to icon-painting, in which the depiction of the sky as the
real and celestial frontier of this world, had enormous
BE WATHFUL !
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.
As a piece of advice
for beginners, a genuine Palekh and Mstera piece must have
at least two distinctive features. First, the gold touchup
lines (probeli), lines emphasizing the volume of the objects
in the painting. A painter must have high skill to apply
gold touchup lines properly; not all masters can do it.
On a fake painting the gold lines are haphazard. Some fakers
try to ornate the painting with lines bearing no construction
sense, with the result that the ornament looks quite incongruous.
Another thing, which may give a faker away, is his inability
to use the technique of multi-layer brushwork (plavi). The
technique is needed so sophisticated that painters who graduated
from the art schools take many years to master it. Unfortunately,
an innocent buyer may not see the difference between real
multi-layer brushwork and primitive coloring.
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 Mstera 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 $60 you'd better
So be watchful. By the
way: if you see a street dealer selling a Rolex watch for
50$ you won't even fancy that it is original. Quite the
same is with the original Russian lacquer miniatures