Papier-mache — This base material goes through many stages of processing before reaching a wood-like quality. The resulting thick cardboard is cut into very thin slices, which are glued together, pressed and worked into a variety of forms. After drying, the raw forms are saturated in hot linseed oil and placed in drying chambers that reach temperatures up to 90—100 degrees Celsius. At this point, particular details may require woodworking at a bench. The forms are now treated with filler, a black ground coat is applied and they are again dried. Next, they are smoothed, treated with three coats of black lacquer and a coat of cinnabar and once again dried. Finally, each object is covered with clear lacquer. After drying, they are ready for the painter.

The method of Palekh painting

Palekh lacquers use the many-layered technique of tempera painting on drawings done with a tempera whitener. The color patches are put down first, followed by the scenes and then the application of gold and the highlighting of special areas — so-called probela. This is a carryover from medieval Russian painting in which colors were, as they still are, applied in repeated stages, with the basic color having a greater proportion of whitener. Socalled plavi painting is characteristic of Palekh (plavi refers to the application of translucent layers of color over still damp color surfaces). Palekh boxes are distinctive for their black backgrounds. White or red backgrounds do occur, but rarely.

The artists worked in tempera as had the ancient Russian icon-painters. The colors are applied to the lacquered surface in order: first, the basic composition is applied with whitener. On places that are to be bright, the whitener is applied more thickly. Next comes the application of relatively lighter colors in the stage known as "roskrysh." Only thereafter comes the detailed painting. The result of "roskrysh" is that all the lighter and darker areas and contours of the final composition are visible — what Palekh masters call "priplavka." Next come further applications of color and, finally, the outlining of details in gold ("probelka").

As a rule, Palekh artists use the complex painting technique of scumbling or "plav painting," in which the color of the lower layers comes through and blends with the many translucent layers applied over them.

Some Notes on Producers' Marks

1990s: Marks that make possible identification of an object as Palekh are found on the lid. The bottom edge gives the serial number of the semi-raw form, a copyright symbol and the place (Palekh) and date of creation and the signature (initials and family name) of the artist.

1934: "Made in USSR (Russia)" is inscribed on the bottom of the object. This was replaced later by "Made in Russia."

1980—1990: The trademark on works from the Tovarishchestvo of Palekh is "Zhar Ptitsa." On works from the "Obyedineniye of Artists of Palekh" is "Pero Zhar Ptitsy" (1989—1991) and "Zhar Ptitsa" (1991).

Fedoskino Style

Fedoskino lacquers use the most delicate kind of painting in oils. Scumbling involves very thin layers of translucent and semi-translucent colors applied over a thoroughly dried and hardened layer and various inserts. Fedoskino painting may be divided into two groups: "poskvoznomu," or painting with translucent colors, and "po-plotnomu," or the use of thick layers of non-translucent colors (korpusnaya zhivopis), the latter type notable for the intricacy of the details, the excellence of the drawings and the richness of color. A distinctive effect is created by the radiance of the inserts (mother-of-pearl, gold foil, other metal foils, metal powders) coming through the layers of translucent paint. Several layers of painting are applied to these inserts. The corners of lids and side walls are treated with mother-of-pearl, metals, jewels, silver and gold strips, filigree.

Gradually, two kinds of classic Fedoskino painting emerged: "dense" (very carefully outlined and sharply drawn images in rich color) and "transparent" (in which the brightness of the inlay shows through the colors). Mother-of-pearl inlays set in the still gelid lacquer were frequently used. More commonly, thin gold leaf or silver metal powder was employed. The painting itself was applied in layers on the inlay. The edges of the lid and side walls were sometimes treated with mother-ofpearl, metal, incrustations of jewels, silver and gold ornament in relief and filigree. The interior and exterior of the boxes often were done in "tortoise shell," "birch bark," "ivory," "malachite," "mother-of-pearl," "Scotch plaid" and "mahogany" grain patterns.


Mstera lacquer miniatures resemble those of Palekh. As in Palekh, tempera colors are used. For the Mstera school, the black background is completely covered by the background chosen for the landscape or architectural scene; the figures are part of the fabric of a painting that seems saturated with light. The use of azure ornamentation produces a particularly ethereal atmosphere. Gold plays a lesser role in Mstera lacquers than in those of Palekh.


The technology of Kholui miniatures is much like that of Palekh. The craft took root here at the same time as the craft was developing in Mstera. Kholui miniatures use both the light backgrounds of Mstera and the dark of Palekh. The painted scenes may sometimes cover the entire surface of the form.


Evgeniya Gershkovich


Artist Mikhail Pershin. Box "Bloody Sunday. Jan. 9, 1905".
1937. Palekh. 123 x 82 x 43 Bloody Sunday, Jan. 9 (22), 1905, refers to the events of that day; a crucial moment in Russian history that impelled it toward the revolution of 1905.



Artist Anna Kotukhina. Cigarette box "The Artist Sergei Stolyarov."
1956. Palekh 102 x 123 x 27



Artist unknown. Box "Pentathletes".
1938. Fedoskino. 86 x 132 x 40



Artist Rodionov. Oval casket "The Steamboat Rossiya".
1953. Fedoskino. 193 x 95 x 58



Artist unknown. Box for pens and cards "Warrior of the RKKA, We Will Bring Freedom to Suomi!".
1940. Fedoskino.145 x 96 x 47 In the little pullout box, were OSOAVIAKhIM "Voroshilov marksman" cards explaining the parts and use of rifle



Artist N. Semyonov. Box "Red Army Dance".
1931. Fedoskino. 175 x 188 x 47


© Natalia Semyonova.Concept & edited by. 2009 | © Yevgeniya Gershkovich. Text. 2009
© Irina Tarkhanova-Yakubson. Design. 2009 | © Denis Talygin. Web design. 2009
© Howard M. Goldfinger. Translation. 2009 | © Vladislav Karukin. Photography. 2009
© Alexander Dobrovinsky. Art collection. 2009 | © Gamma Press. 2009