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a wooden, papier-mâché, or metallic artifact, coated with lacquer and often painted with two-dimensional designs or decorated with relief carving, inlay, or engraving. The distinctive properties of lacquer ware are the luster of the mirrorlike, polished surface and the contrasts of the background colors, the painted decoration, and the inlay. Carved lacquer ware is noted for the gentle play of light and shadow and for the richness of forms.
The earliest known lacquer ware was made in the second millennium B.C. in China, where the sap of the varnish tree Rhus verniciflua was used to coat various objects. Chinese lacquer ware, which includes cups, vases, boxes, furniture, and architectural materials, is made of papier-mâché or wood upon which a layer of cloth or paper has been affixed. The lacquering process is lengthy: it includes priming, numerous applications of lacquer, drying, and polishing. This procedure is necessary to ensure that the surface is strong and waterproof.
Several types of decoration were widespread in Chinese lacquer ware. Some objects had many-planed carvings on red lacquer (in Peking), and others had delicate designs done in various colors and powdered gold on black or colored grounds. Coromandel work is characterized by a black ground into which designs were cut and picked out in colors. Some Chinese lacquer ware was inlaid with mother-of-pearl, tin, or silver. Chinese lacquerwork objects usually depicted landscapes, flowers, or genre scenes.
The lacquer ware of Korea, Japan, and Indochina is similar to that of China. In Vietnam and Laos, where lacquerwork household utensils are made, the production of lacquerwork artistic objects ware is also widespread. In Iran, India, and Central Asia (Herat), particularly from the 15th to 17th centuries, miniatures done in tempera on papier-mâché objects coated with a lacquer consisting primarily of sandarac, such as boxes and pencil cases, were widespread. Nirmal lacquer ware was popular in India; these objects were made from wood or metal, covered with a golden lacquer made from the juice of tamarind seeds, and decorated with bright polychromatic pictures (tiny human figures, flowers, and birds).
Oriental lacquer ware has been known in Europe since the 15th century. The production of wooden and papier-mâché lacquerwork objects (furniture, household articles, and articles for the decoration of palace interiors) first developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The lacquering process was simplified in Europe. Hot drying in furnaces and the use of oil paints and oil-based lacquers were introduced. The lacquer ware produced in the 18th century by the firm of Martin in France and by J. Stobwas-ser’s factories in Germany was distinguished by high technical and artistic quality. In Russia the production of oil-painted lacquerwork objects from wood (furniture and decorative articles for palace interiors) and papier-mâché (snuff boxes and other boxes) began in the 18th century. Russian lacquer ware was decorated with landscapes, flowers, genre scenes, and portraits. The handicraft production of lacquer ware was begun in the early 19th century. Soviet times has seen the development of a very fine art of tempera painting on lacquerwork articles (Palekh, Mster, and Kholui miniatures), as well as the development of older lacquer techniques.
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Ozhegova, N. “Lakovaia miniatiura Birmy.” Iskusstvo, 1966, no. 12.
Shmeleva, G. V. Stankovaia zhivopis’ Demokraticheskoi Respubliki V’etnam. Moscow, 1970.
Sawaguchi, G. Nihon shikko no Kenkyu. (Studies in Japanese Lacquer.) Tokyo, 1933.
Feddersen, M. Les Laques chinois. Paris, 1958.
Holzhausen, W. Lackkunst in Europa. Braunschweig, 1959.
N. A. KANEVSKAIA