Russian Lacquer Art

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Painted lacquer boxes, popularly thought to be a traditional Russian folk art, are actually a product of the Soviet period. Lacquer painting involves a delicate and elegant miniature style, typically done on the lids of lacquered, papier-mâché black boxes, with crimson interiors. 

The subjects usually depict Russian fairy tales, legends, and folk heroes. During the Soviet period, subjects also included scenes of rural life, industrialization, as well as Soviet leaders and heroes. Lacquer boxes, originally created for Soviet citizens, developed a worldwide reputation after being sold at international arts and crafts fairs.

Fedoskino, Kholui, Mstera, and Palekh, are three of the most famous villages where lacquer art has been produced. Ivan Golikov, an icon painter from Palekh, derived the inspiration for this style from lacquered boxes he saw at the Kustar Museum in 1921. Golikov and others applied egg tempera, rather than oil, to papier-mâché boxes and, employing techniques used in icon painting, created objects that resembled traditional folk art. 

The Artel of Early Painting, a craft collective for Palekh painters founded by Golikov and his colleagues, was established in Palekh in 1924 (similar artels also existed in Khuloi and Mstera). 

Lacquerware painting became an integral part of Soviet applied arts, and continues to be popular today.