Authentic Russian lacquer art features sophisticated hand drawn miniature painting on a paper-mache box. Lacquer boxes got their name from many layers of lacquer applied.
The history of lacquer miniature begins in 1795 in Danilkovo village (now part of Fedoskino) where the merchant Ivan Korobov set up the 1st manufactory of lacquered visors for the needs of Russian army. Soon after the production of snuffboxes and lacquer boxes began.
Lacquer boxes were highly appreciated for the artistic workmanship and gained several medals on industrial art exhibitions.
While creating a lacquer box the technology first developed by Korobov 2 hundred years ago is used. It takes 6 weeks to produce the blank paper-mache box. Paper-mache means “chewed paper” it is a composite material consisting of paper with glue or special paste. It is very firm, resistant and avoid cracking.
But it's the miniature paintings that bring real value to the boxes. Artists typically use strong magnifying glasses and very fine brushes made of a squirrel's tail to create their masterpieces.
It can take as long as one year to create one lacquer box! That's why the first lacquer boxes were very expensive, so only the members of the Royal family and the richest nobility could afford them.
There are four main schools of lacquer miniature art in Russia, named under the villages where they are historically produced.
Each school has its one distinctive style. The oldest art school is Fedoskino. The Fedoskino school bases its plots on landscapes, life scenes, portraits, some of them are replicas of world famous pictures. Realistic image, multi-layer painting technique and oil-painting are the most important distinctive features of Fedoskino art school. Three other schools – Palekh, Kholui and Mstera have initially been icon-painting centers, that's why they use egg tempera technique of painting. The main themes are traditional fairy-tales or folk-tales.
While creating a lacquer box only high quality materials such as golden leaf, mother of pearl or aluminum powder are used. The box painted by a master is not a souvenir but a piece of art.