Russian Lacquer Boxes – One of Russia’s Most Intricate Art Forms
What are Russian lacquer boxes made of? An authentic Russian lacquer box is made from a very high quality papier-mâché. Papier-mâché is used because it resists the warping that wood is prone to. Skilled craftsmen shape the papier-mâché box forms before they are given to the artists for completion.
Many layers of lacquer are applied to these boxes. Before the box is painted, as many as 7 or 8 layers of black lacquer is applied. Occasionally red, white, or blue lacquer is used as a foundation color instead. After the box is painted, several layers of clear lacquer are applied. The interior is usually finished with a red lacquer.
Painting… All genuine Russian lacquer boxes are hand painted. The painting is so detailed that it is usually even more appreciated when viewed through a magnifying glass. These miniatures require such tiny strokes that oftentimes a single strand of squirrel hair is used as a brush. The gold adornment that accents most of the boxes is burnished with a wolf’s tooth.
The 4 Schools… There are four major schools of study for lacquer boxes: Palekh, Fedoskino, Kholui, and Mstoria. Boxes from Palekh, Kholui, and Mstera are usually bright and colorful and are painted with egg tempura paints. The Palekh school focuses primarily on Russian fairy tales and legends. Fedoskino is known for their use of oil paints and frequent use of mother-of-pearl as an inlay in the box design.
Signing… Most Russian lacquer boxes are signed. Usually the signature will be beneath the illustration on the lid of the box. A typical signature includes the illustration name, school, and artist signature. Many boxes are also dated. Occasionally the signature will be on the inside of the lid or on the bottom of the box. Of course, all signatures are in Russian.
Counterfeits… there are many counterfeit boxes being sold that buyers should beware. Counterfeit lacquer boxes are usually made from a technique similar to decoupage. To determine if a box has been hand painted it is fairly simple to use a magnifying glass to see the actual brush strokes. Conversely, upon close inspection the counterfeit boxes will have small square pixel patterns under the design. We only sell authentic hand painted Russian lacquer boxes at Anazao Galleries.