Russian lacquer boxes evolved from the art of icon painting which almost died with the collapse of Imperial Russia. These icon painters, who decorated churches and people's homes, had to continue to make a living. Hence, the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels developed. The pieces were lacquered and then hand painted by the artists, some with flowers, winter scenes and/or with scenes from folk tales.
The village of Fedoskino (Федоскино), on the banks of the Ucha River, fairly close to Moscow, is the oldest of four well known art centers that produce Russian lacquer miniature painting on papier-mâché. the art of which has been practiced there since 1795. It stands apart both geographically and stylistically. The style of Fedoskino painting is largely realistic in composition and detail. Oil paints are used rather than egg tempera and the artist is allowed a free hand in impressionistic interpretation.
The other three Russian lacquer art centers are: Palekh (Палех), Kholuy (Kholuy, Kholuj, Holui - Холуй) and Mstyora (Мстёра). The lacquer artists of Palekh, Kholui and Mstera continue to use the technique of painting in egg-based tempera overlaid with intricate gold leaf highlighting.
All three are situated in the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality, Ivanovo region of central Russia, and are deeply rooted in the 17th-19th century icon painting tradition, which lasted until the Russian Revolution of 1917 and is now being revived by young artists of the 21st century.
The quality of lacquer boxes varies widely. Tourists are frequently instructed that a signature on the bottom of the box indicates that a master painted it. However, the reality of the lacquer box industry is that most are painted in small factories where signing another artist's name is no more difficult than painting in his style. Instead of checking for the signature of an artist that can never be confirmed, instead consider the actual quality and detail of the artwork. Many of the lacquer boxes produced in the Soviet Union have exceptional detail and command astronomical prices, yet have no signature.
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