Translation of the Preface to the Book “Lacquer Miniature of Fedoskino” by Ludmila Yakovlevna Suprun, published by Legprombitizdat of Moscow in 1987.
Fedoskino, a small village not far from Moscow, is standing beautifully on the both sides of the cold spring river Ucha. Its houses are decorated with carved casings, front-gardens and vegetable gardens. Surrounded by ancient lime trees the contemporary residential buildings are standing without towering too high over Fedoskino's hill, not even disturbing the beauty of a usual rural landscape. In the very center of the village there is a contemporary light building in which the Fedoskino Order "Sign of Honor" factory of the miniature painting is located. Yes, it turns out there are factories where pipes don't smoke and the noise of machinery can't be heard. The factory has its own engineers and masters, its own technologies and its own technical control department, but the most important person at this factory is the painter, for only by means of his talent and his work can there be created the most important, for the sake of which this enterprise was established and has existed for almost two hundred years. The manufacturing employees of this factory, almost a work force of five hundred painters and masters, are unusual as its production is unusual and unique as well - lacquer products with the original Fedoskino miniature painting are known and admired throughout the world.
The group of Fedoskino painters is the pride of our national decorative art. Their work has received many awards, diplomas, and deeds in our country and abroad. Among the masters there are members of the Union of Artists of the USSR, distinguished painters of RSFSR, laureates of I. E. Repin State Award of RSFSR, laureates of Lenin’s Komsomol Award, and holders of the Distinguished Order. The title of national painter of RSFSR was awarded in 1985 to the painter Gennady I. Larishev. Members of Fedoskino painters' guild are indispensable participants of all major exhibitions of folk art in our country and abroad.
Fedoskino lacquer products, what are they, what is their beauty, why do they exist in our lives for almost two centuries? In everyday life we need little things but they are very necessary items like boxes, cases for letters or crafts, cups for pencils or brushes, tea-caddies, powder-cases, and notebooks. These items in the majority of cases are so unpretentious and unskillful, yet loyally serving us they almost don't catch attention. Very often we can't remember their color or form, and only approximately do we know their size.
But maybe as a present a small lacquer casket decorated with miniature painting appears one day in our house and we are told that this is a product of Fedoskino masters. Carefully taking the present we attentively examine it, our hands stroke its shiny lacquer surface, our eyes look close at the image on the lid of the box. We want to turn its different sides to the light, open and close again. With this thing, so beautiful and elegant, it feels like a holiday comes into our house. The small casket not only reminds us of friends who carefully and with love chose this present but it makes us glad with its beauty of shape, fineness of calligraphic golden ornament, brightness, and light carried colors of the picturesque miniature.
The thing given to us is amazingly well "done". It is light and at the same time very durable, its black lacquer surface is impeccably polished. Inside the box is painted with bright red enamel, and the lid is so skillfully fitted that the little hinges by which it is attached are almost unseen.
What are the materials from which Fedoskino Factory create their lacquered paper-mâché products?
Once they were called paper because the base for paper-mâché is a well glued paper mass. The technology of their manufacturing has not changed much. The process of manufacturing a contemporary Fedoskino product begins with the creation of its smooth form. The level of sculptural expressiveness depends on the experience, skill, and artistic flair of the masters. This long process begins with wrapping and envelopment of special blanks, creating the right form with strips of wooden paperboard. The prepared frame of the product is glued under pressure, a bottom is attached to it, and a lid is fitted. A big chest or a small box is boiled thoroughly in linseed oil, then it is dried several times, covered with putty and primer. Coating with lacquer indispensably drying of each coating with Fedoskino technology is counted no less then sixteen times. In only two months after the beginning of work the product gets to be painted by a miniature-painter.
He takes the responsibility of the creative work from people performing the wrapping, sawing, turning, and polishing that made the product solid, beautiful, and sculpturally expressive.
However, an uninitiated person who admires the work of masters creating forms of Fedoskino products can think that this process is too complex and laborious. Why not use such a material as lacquered wood instead of paper-mâché? Such experiments took place but they only proved that wood is not solid enough base for such a precious painting as the Fedoskino miniature. The excellent undamaged state of many lacquered two hundred year old products kept in our museums says a lot about the solidity of paper-mâché. Once I heard a story about how one old master accidentally dropped a lacquered cigar-case with painting into a freshly dug up well. When this well was being cleaned 20 years later the cigar-case was found safe and sound. Neither time nor water had changed it. Fedoskino people love their traditional material for this durability, easiness of processing, and for the possibility to create different shapes of products.
The smoothness of Fedoskino products is inseparable from a happy multi-colored miniature painting, which decorates them, as it is from the finest golden ornament.
What is the content of the Fedoskino miniature, what subjects attract masters, and what do they tell our contemporary?
Themes and subjects of the Fedoskino miniatures are extremely diverse as well as creative hand and passion of miniature-painters. Some masters paint traditional Fedoskino compositions: "tea-drinking", "troikas", and scenes of rural holidays. However, some give preference to landscape, yet others see their task in actual creation of miniature portraits, the fourth group is charmed by thin refined golden designs against a background of black shiny lacquer.
One of the most beautiful places around Moscow is Fedoskino and its outskirts which is captured by Fedoskino painters in winter, spring, and in summer with delicate feelings of a "nature mood". On one of the caskets we see a scene of fall woods near Moscow as though fused within the lacquered surface. As golden giants thickset oaks rise from the morning foggy haze. The picture is at the same time simple and many times seen but recreated by the hand of a Fedoskino painter, it is transformed: it has the tenderness of the painter's memory of childhood, before its solemnity and imperishability, and the amazement before the beauty of native nature, and the light fall sadness.
Landscapes of Fedoskino painters not only reveal man's feelings through the image of nature, but also show the man himself, and his life surrounded by nature. These are painters themselves drawing sketches from life, tourists walking on the path in the forest, mushroom hunters, and skiers. In the winter landscapes there are often scenes of riding on sledges, troikas, skating, and scenes of vivid winter holidays. Field working and haymaking are depicted quite often in the miniatures. The painter is equally interested in nature's life and in people's life, sometimes he goes from just a landscape to a genre-landscape. People stop being just figures enlivening the landscape panorama (so called staffage) but fully enter the narration.
Among the Fedoskino masters' products it is possible to also see city landscapes. Some examples include views of Moscow streets and alleys, also colorful and festive panoramas of Moscow Kremlin. Miniaturists are also attracted to scenes from national history and Russian national folklore, such as fairy tales, bylinas (Russian epics), and folk song.
The Fedoskino miniature lives in the close connection with many fields of the national graphic art: easel painting, graphics, and folk art. Creative copying of the best works of national and West European painting was a distinctive feature of the Fedoskino masters' art since old times.
By buying a Fedoskino casket or chest you can become an owner of a wonderful copy of "Heroes" by Vasnetsov or a masterpiece "Rooks have come" by Savrasov, a landscape by I. I. Shishkin or a genre-painting by P. A. Fedotov, paintings by K. P. Brullov and by many other masters.
Creative copying is a special genre of the Fedoskino painters' work. Any other painters of the other lacquered styles can't do such copies. And it is not surprising. Fedoskino painters successfully copy masterpieces of Russian classic painting because they feel and understand the system of expressive means of the easel painting. Fedoskino painters just as Russian portraitist, landscape painters, and genre masters paint their compositions with oil-paint using two main ways of applying it on the priming surface: semi-transparent glaze painting and thick framing painting, when each of the following coat of painting covers the previous. Fedoskino painters use the same rules of construction pertaining to the realm of light and air and a linear perspective as easel painters.
Fedoskino is called the homeland of Russian lacquers not without a reason. It is the oldest manufacture of this kind among all that exist. It began with a factory founded in 1795 by P. I. Korobov and is 200 years old.
Other lacquer manufactures (Palekh and Kholuy in the Ivanovo region and Mstera in the Vladimir region) had formed much later, in 1920s-1930s, on the base of local icon-painting businesses known since the 15th-17th centuries.
Here we encounter a paradoxical and interesting historical situation. The artistic tradition of these younger then Fedoskino manufactures turns out to be much more ancient then the tradition that is the base for the art of the first lacquer center.
Artists of these businesses started to paint miniatures on a new unfamiliar to them material called lacquered paper-mâché using tempera paints mixed with an egg yolk as it was made before to paint icons with. That is how the experience of Fedoskino painters in making the forms of products unites with the traditional mastery of painters who maintained the techniques of the ancient Russian miniature painterly.
When comparing the Fedoskino miniatures with, for example, Palekh works it is impossible not to see the differences in their painting language. In the Palekh miniature the space is shown more conditionally, but the black lacquered background has more decorative meaning as if joining together separate pieces of the narration. In a special Palekh way the master paints people's figures: they are accentually elegant, visually light, and as if rhythmically connected with one melody. The distinctions of the Palekh miniature are stormy movements in such compositions as "troikas" and "battles", special decorative soundings of color, exposure of smooth volume by means of a golden stroke, called "assist" in the iconography.
The range of ideas and images that concerns the Fedoskino miniaturists and the technique of their pictorial picturesque painting irrefutably prove that this art is inseparably linked to the Russian national artistic tradition, classical paintings of the 18th-19th centuries, and to people's folk graphic creative work.
At the same time we cannot forget to mention the connection between the Fedoskino lacquered production and the culture of painted artistic lacquers in Western Europe in the 18th-19th centuries. Having admired the extraordinary beauty and originality of Japanese and Chinese lacquered products, European manufacturers gradually mastered the lacquered production process, bringing in their own changes and innovations. In England, France, and Germany manufactures of lacquered products have grown and successfully developed in the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. Lacquered snuffboxes, which won a huge popularity, were their primary production. But gradually manufactures producing snuffboxes were closing together with the going-away fashion of snuffboxes.
The last European manufacturing center of lacquered products was the factory of Iohann Stobwasser located in the small German town Braunschweig. At this enterprise the Russian merchant P. I. Korobov who was trying to follow other Russian merchants at the end of the 18th century to establish the lacquered manufacture in Russia was introduced to the process of creation of lacquer products. Korobov was interested in mass production intended for various groups of consumers. Lacquers that existed earlier in Russia like rare objects of palace decoration (remember unique panels of Russian "lacquered wood" masters in the lacquered Peterhof office, lacquered furniture, decorative vases) were supposed to become everyday goods. Almost at the same time as Korobov such attempts were made by owners of factories in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Mitava and other cities, however only the Fedoskino factory has lived up to this time out of the multitude of "lacquered" manufactures of that time.
During many decades in Fedoskino not only a wide assortment of lacquered products was defined and the technology of their production was led to perfection, but also the system of methods of creating decorative work, which quite often had a very complex image structure, was designed.
From the very beginning the Fedoskino lacquer miniature was stylistically a complex phenomena of art. There are quite a few reasons for that. One of them was the aspiration of factory owners to work for the various markets and to satisfy the demand of all levels of Russian society, from sophisticated aristocrats to peasants and poor townspeople.
Mixed markets were influencing the style of the Fedoskino products during all pre-revolutionary history of business development. "Early Lukutin style was not unified or defined by very complicated customer orders. Higher classes and foreign markets demanded for the most part very thoroughly made copies of the Russian masters' paintings? Peasant subjects such as "Russian exotics" were in high demand among middle classes, such as average and below average traders, city and suburban petty bourgeoisie, and also on foreign markets? There were also many independent designs in this range of subjects". [N. N. Maslennikov, A. V. Bakushinsky. Russian artistic lacquers. M., 1933, p.12]
More then half a century has passed since publication of A. V. Bakushinsky and the range of the Fedoskino art monuments known now to the scientist has greatly increased, but instead of depreciating the meaning of his conclusions about the complexity of the Fedoskino art style it makes them more significant.
Attempts to uncover thoroughly the style of the Fedoskino art to show the original synthesis of folk and professional artistic features, and to discover the sources of subjects were made many times by soviet art critics. G. V. Yalovenko in the book "Fedoskino" published several interesting historic documents and analyzed many monuments, comparing them in some cases with development of the Russian painting and graphics in the 19th - the beginning of 20th centuries.
V. M. Vasilenko, S. M. Temerin, I. N. Uhanova, B. I. Koromislov, V. A. Guliaev and other researchers who addressed themselves to different periods of historic development of this business from its origins to nowadays have made their contribution to the Fedoskino art study.
Learning and summarizing the creative work of the Fedoskino masters nowadays are not only in the form of traditional art critic research. Thirst for understanding the history and the present Fedoskino art is shown in the attempts of old masters to tell their creative principles in a big literary work. A distinctive auto portrait of business, written not only by a painter, but also by a historian, and chronicler of this folk art center is a book of one of the leading masters Mikhail Stepanovich Chizhov "Among miniaturists". It was born from memories and thoughts about the Fedoskino art, summarizing his creative experience and experiences of his friends.
In the works of the soviet art critics many sides of the Fedoskino art are examined. However, even now a number of interesting problems of its development still have not been explored. Appealing to biographies of some masters and to chronological examination of development stages of this business during the end of the 18th - 20th centuries became a usual way of researching this kind of art. But it is far from being the only way of finding the essence of the Fedoskino art and peculiarities of its historic evolution. Created as a distinctive artistic manufacture the Fedoskino production gradually gained many features of traditional artistic business. One of these distinctive features was affirmed collectively by the masters' creative works, including joint work on creating a certain kind of product and multitude of variants of its decorative design. Groups of masters developing a certain part of this collective art were gradually formed among the Fedoskino painters. Some were attracted to genre compositions, others were painting landscapes, and others particularly loved to work with ornamental product design.
Development of each type within the Fedoskino miniature has gained well-known independence and promoted its own talented masters. Each genre was connected in its own way to some areas of folk or "scientific", easel or decorative art.
Time has come to not only talk about general rules of the Fedoskino art development, but to closely look at a miniature portrait, landscape, genre-painting, and ornamental composition.
The meaning of Fedoskino as an original artistic production and educational complex is underestimated even now. Meanwhile it is a truly unique phenomenon: productively acting for such a long time a union of the business and its school together used the same artistic ideas and creative principles, and gained a huge experience in forming a creative personality.
Pressing now to our pedagogic, problems of combining a learning institute with a manufacture were aroused and solved in Fedoskino many decades ago. To choose the most experienced, brightest, and unique masters from the business staff to train the young ones and to bring up new masters by means of the whole staff became an indisputable rule from the very foundation of the school. That was the only way in which the high level of masters could be preserved and their skills of self-dependent artistic work could be inculcated to a new generations in Fedoskino.
By no means claiming the completeness of coverage of all these questions, we will make an attempt in our book to examine art monuments of traditional and present Fedoskino. We will do this from a stand point of formation and development in this business an original system of artistic expressive tools used each time by masters in landscapes, portraits, genre or historic compositions, and in decorative design of products. Such approach to this subject became possible only as a result of examination of a large number of big and small collections of the Fedoskino works in different museums and private collections.
The book is illustrated with pictures of the works of the Fedoskino painters from collections from museums of the Fedoskino Order "Sign of Honor" Factory of Miniature Painting, Fedoskino School of Miniature Painting, Museum of Folk Art, State Tretyakov Gallery, and State Historical Museum.
The author is very grateful to the Fedoskino painters, Fedoskino artistic manufacture college of miniature painting, scientific employees of the State Historic museum, the Museum of folk art, Russian museum of decorative applied and folk art, the State Tretyakov Gallery, art critics and researchers of folk art V. M. Vasilenko, G. V. Yalovenko, and G. I. Koromislov for the great help in the work of this book.