Fedoskino miniature painting
Lying on a sofa in a grey house suit,
nestled in German pillows.... he used to fiddle with some small
object, his old black snuffbox, its lacquer gone tarnished...."
That was how Russkie Vedomosti (The Russian Gazette) described russian
writer Ivan Turgenev in 1884. History has, surprisingly, preserved
for us Turgenev's favorite plaything. When leaving, for the last
time, Russia for Paris, where he was not allowed to smoke or snuff
tobacco, Turgenev left his snuffbox as a souvenir with his friend,
writer Yakov Polonsky. The Polonsky family carefully stored that
relic, which was then transferred to the Pushkin House, that is,
the Museum of the Russian Literature Institute. Turgenev's snuffbox
is still on display at that museum. It is a small oblong black lacquer
box, the size of two matchboxes. Its lid is decorated with a picture
of a sledge driven by three horses, flying along the snow-laden
field. Smartly dressed rosy-cheeked young ladies are riding in the
sledge, with a spirited coachman whipping the healed horses. Inside
the purple-lacquer coaled lid bears a semi-obliterated picture of
a gold double-headed eagle with the letters "F. A. L."
(Alexander Lukutin's factory trademark) underneath.
The village of Fedoskino, situated
40km north of Moscow on the picturesque banks of the Ucha River,
is Russia's oldest centre of lacquer miniature painting. At least
half of the inhabitants of this village and the neighboring ones
are in one way or another connected with the traditional craft.
The secrets of making and painting papier-mache lacquers have for
200 years now been passed from one generation to another. The French
word "papier-mache" (literally "chewed paper")
is well-rooted in the Russian language. Several layers of pasted
cardboard, boiled in linseed oil and then repeatedly dried in a
hot oven, form an original material - hard as wood, light and waterproof
- that can be sawed, polished, primed and lacquered. In the 18lh
through the 19lh century papier-mache was widely used to make sundry
items from peaks for the Russian army headdress to trays, tables
and even chandeliers. Needless to say, all sorts of papier-mache
caskets and boxes used to store matches, stamps, cards, glasses
and above all snuff were immensely popular.
The best jewelers were commissioned to make snuffboxes, which at
limes cost a fortune. By the end of the 18th century snuffing had
become widespread - every shop-assistant thought it a matter of
self-esteem to have a snuffbox near at hand. Demand for inexpensive
mass-produced snuffboxes was on the rise, and papier-mache proved
a suitable material. A host of small factories engaged in making
snuffboxes in Russia at that time. Among others, Moscow merchant
Pyotr Korobov also founded one such factory
Pyotr Korobov's factory was the first
in the Moscow region. According to legend, Korobov went to Germany
to visit Johann Stobwasser's factory in Braunschweig and brought
back round painted snuffboxes to serve as models. The first trademark
appeared on the factory products under Pyotr Lukutin, Korobov's
son-in-law who inherited the factory in 1824. His trademark consisted
of the letters "F. P. L." which stood for "Factory
Pyor Lukutin." From that time and throughout the 19th century
until the factory was closed in 1904, the Lukutin family owned the
factory. In 1828, Pyotr Lukutin was conferred the right to stamp
his products with the state emblem. The double-headed Russian eagle
thus appeared next to the "F. P. L." initials.
Alongside plain, mass-produced items intended for the public at
large and supplied to trade rows or shops, the Lukutin factory also
made things to order intended for wealthy merchants and the aristocracy.
Executed with rare craftsmanship and delicacy, those products brought
fame to Lukutin's artisans in the first half of the 19th century.Miniature
painting was also on the rise in the applied arts, especially porcelain
painting (Gardner's porcelain factory, which was located comparatively
not far from Fedoskino, is worth mentioning in this connection),
in which genre scenes and pictures of peasant and round dances were
in vogue, together with portraits and landscapes. Lukutin's papier-mache
lacquer miniatures were well-attuned to their time. Their conventional
black background, small size, planar composition, romantic and allegorical
scenes or sentimental portraits met perfectly well the aesthetic
criteria of the age.
Rivals to the Korobov - Lukutin factory
appeared early in the 19th century. Count Sheremetev's serfs, Yegor
and Taras Vishnyakov, opened their workshops in neighboring Zhostovo
and Ostashkovo, respectively, in 1815 and 1816. By the early 1850s,
twelve lacquer workshops were operating in Zhostovo and nearby villages.
The workshop of Osip Filippovich Vishnyakov soon captured the leading
position in the trade. His earlier known works dale to the 1830s
through the 1850s. They bear the trademark "Master O. F. Vishnyakov"
inscribed in a circle.The history of two outstanding lacquer productions
in the Moscow region - the Lukutin and Vishnyakov workshops - closely
intertwined throughout the 19th century. They competed with and
influenced each other, exchanging craftsmen and production techniques.
Lacquer miniatures of the Moscow region were made with the help
of multi-layer oil painting on the primed papier-mache surface with
special linin. Most of the Fedoskino papier-mache wares have a black
background on Ihe outside and are covered inside with scarlet, bright-red
or cherry-colored lacquer. Papier-mache lacquers of the Moscow region
were closely linked to Russia's graphic art of that period. Miniature
artists mastered and copied drawings, engravings, cheap folk prints
and lithographs which were sold in separate sheets and albums. Quite
a few works have now been identified as prototypes of miniature
compositions used in lacquers of the Moscow region. The theme of
troika-riding was most widespread in 19th century miniatures. A
troika rushing through the snow-laden forest and sledge riders are
to this day a popular theme that has become an emblem of the craft.
In 1904, Lukutin's heirs (the last,
N. A. Lukutin died in 1902) closed the factory. Some miniature painters
transferred to the Vishnyakov workshop, but many of them were dissatisfied
with the tough working conditions. The Fedoskino Artel of Former
Lukutin Factory Workers was founded in 1910, initially numbering
ten craftsmen, later joined by several more people. The years of
the revolution and the subsequent Civil War took a heavy toll on
the craftsmen and, for that matter, Russian life in general. Workshops
often stood idle as a result of raw material and other shortages,
and there was little demand for the finished products.
That situation changed noticeably in 1923, when the Ail-Union Exhibition
of Agricultural, Industrial and Cultural Products in Moscow, where
Fedoskino wares were awarded the first degree diploma "for
superb artistic skill" and another diploma "for preserving
the craft and high cooperation." Artel's products were exported
abroad and sent to international exhibitions. Fedoskino craftsmen
were awarded the Paris Exhibition diploma in 1925 and the Milan
Exhibition diploma in 1927.
Important anniversaries of Soviet political
and cultural life, which brought major state orders, became landmarks
in the craft's history. Thus, a major exhibition held in 1937 marked
the centenary of Pushkin's death. A special series of caskets centered
around Pushkinian themes, with paintings by D. N. Kardovsky, G.
C. Chernelsov and G. D. Myasoyedov portraying Pushkin or illustrating
his works used as models. The miniatures were accomplished by gifted
artists from among the early graduates of the Fedoskino school,
including I. Bannov, K. Zorin, S. Slesarev and N. Smurov, who brilliantly
succeeded in copying academic painting. Many of them, regrettably,
were not destined lo work long: They perished during World War II.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s The artel focused primarily on copying
works by Vassily Perov, Vassily Surikov, Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin
and other renowned Russian artists. Some pieces, such as Vasnetsov's
"Alenushka" were easily transposed onto the surface of
caskets. However, as few easel paintings could be adapted lo the
laws of miniature painting, the more creative artists came up with
their own compositions. During that period V. D. Lipitsky, A. I.
Kozlov and M. G. Pashinin emerged as original artists, who turned
to Russian tales, such as "The Scarlet Flower", "The
Tale of Tsar Saltan" and "The Snow Maiden", which
was a new trend for the Fedoskino craft. Ever since that time Russian
tales became a popular theme among Fedoskino artists, whose poetic
images have lost none of their glamour.
Landscape miniatures gained prominence
in the sixties. The artists deftly transform shimmering mother-of-pearl
into glimmering water, sky al sunset or sunbeams piercing clouds.
The winter landscapes with silvery snow, spring landscapes with
a radiant sky al sunset and autumn landscapes with golden leaves...
Traditional Fedoskino ornamentation of boxes reached extraordinary
heights in the 1980s and 1990s. Today's Fedoskino skan' is incomparably
richer than Lukutin's artless designs. Using a limited set of figured
metal spangles - tiny circles, corners, crescents and stars - latterday
craftsmen create an unlimited number of ornaments inscribed on the
round or oval lid of a box, girdling its prominent sides or just
Fedoskino painters also continue to develop genre miniatures. They
have shown far more freedom in recent years in elaborating a multitude
of themes. Unrestrained in conveying their feelings and ideas, they
turn out hearty works of art. Historical and ethnographic themes
are being extensively added to traditional fairy tale, epic song
motifs and illustrations of literary works. The immutable charm
of the native land and continuity of the craft, which earns the
artisans their daily bread and sense of achievement, account for
the longevity of Fedoskino lacquers.