Of all the art from
Russia, one that stands out are the exquisite miniature paintings on
lacquer boxes. There are four great schools of Russian lacquer named
after the towns and villages north of Moscow, all founded nearly 400 years ago.
Fedoskino is the
oldest village tracing its past to the late 18th century. Inspiration is
drawn from classical Russian painting, folk scenes, including troika
sleighs. The medium is oil and the colors stand out due to enhancement
by metallic powders and foils. Sometimes mother-of-pearl is used to
great effect. Fedoskino is just a few miles from the center of Moscow,
on the banks of the Ucha river. A forerunner, Danilkovo, is on the
opposite bank of the river. Palekh is known as an old icon painting
village and the style of Russian miniature painting from Palekh is
similar to old icons. Egg tempera is used and the colors are bright and
vibrant. Palekh is nearly 400 kilometers (250 miles) north-east of
Moscow in the Ivanovo region. Kholui (Holui) is another old icon
painting center. Also using tempera, Kholui artists
don't stay true to the classical elongated figures of Palekh. A Kholui artist has more
freedom to express his or her self. The river Teza is prominent in Kholui history. Mstera (Mstiora or Mystera)
artists also use egg tempera, and their boxes can have very decorative
free-hand border decorations. Over 100 years ago, the area was
Bogoyavlenskaya Sloboda. The Msterka (or Mstiorka) river runs directly through the village.
To actually make a lacquer box for an artist on which to paint,
much time is spent in the preparation of the medium. Papier-mache boxes
take a long time to construct but the end product is favored by most
miniature painting artists. The finished product is lighter than wood or
plastic, and stands up to the elements very well.
subject material for boxes are principally fairy tales, folk tales, and
historical scenes or people. Of the many fairy tales from which scenes
for box paintings are derived, some of the best loved are The Scarlet
Flower, The Snow Maiden, Ruslan and Ludmila, Swan Princess, Father Frost
and the Maiden, The Firebird, Tsar Saltan, The Frog Princess and The
Stone Flower. Many more tales and stories are also painted.
A word about
authentication. Since 1992 the production of boxes was freed up to
conform to a capitalist system. Traditional standards of production
deteriorated and many unofficial boxes made their way into the
marketplace, especially Western markets. Tourist quality boxes began to
appear more numerously (which they still do) and certificates, grading,
judging and official gold seals all began to disappear. Still the gold
standard of judging a box is not by signatures, sellers, etc., but by
the quality. A real Palekh box should be instantly recognizable.
Beautiful work always stands out. Good work should be easily
differentiated from bad work. As to why the standards are so wide today,
it's simple: the artists have to eat, feed their
children and buy them shoes. An artist is free to charge whatever he or she wants for a box.