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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. 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.


      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».


      Then 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 Palekh 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 well.
       Painters «make 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 Palekh miniature is in harmony with the content, rhythm, and decorative order of the miniature and presents its final element.
      For Palekh miniature gold is not only a key element of the painting, but also a part of artistic perception. From ancient times gold personified sunlight, bright side of life. In Christian Era gold in arts was considered a material incarnation of the Divine light. Gold painting technique in Palekh miniature adds the picture the ennobling nature. In combination with the black color of the subject forming a part of the color-range of the miniature it creates conditional space, cosmic infinity, connects earthy and cosmic, material and spiritual aspects. This is a feature of the Palekh art. Any motif acquires temporal, deep sound.


      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.
      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 Palekh 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 Palekh art school 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 Palekh 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.Belozerova. "Fellow Embracing a Girl in a Round"

V.Belozerova.  "Fellow Embracing a Girl in a Round".  Palekh
Casket.  2000

N.Borounov. "The little humpbacked horse"

N.Borounov.  "The little humpbacked horse" Palekh.  Box.  1971.

R.Ukolova.  In the Forest 

R.Ukolova.  "In the Forest"
Palekh.  Casket.  2000

S.Kamanin. "Russian Fairy Tales"

S.Kamanin.  "Russian Fairy Tales"
Palekh.  Casket.  1999

V.Buldakov. "Morozko"

V.Buldakov.  "Morozko"
Palekh.  Casket.  2000

V.Kapranova. "Easter"

V.Kapranova.  "Easter"
Palekh.  Casket.  1992

V.Kapranova. "Snow Maiden"

V.Kapranova.  "Snow Maiden"
Palekh.  Coffer.  2000

R.Belousov. "Mikula Selyaninovich"

R.Belousov.  "Mikula Selyaninovich"
Palekh.  Casket.  1993

A.Kochupalov. "Fisherman and the Fish Tale"

A.Kochupalov.  "Fisherman and the Fish Tale"
Palekh.  Casket.  1988