Palekh miniature is a Russian folk handicraft of miniature painting, which is done with tempera paints on varnished articles made of papier-mâché (small boxes, cigarette and powder cases etc.).
This handicraft and style of miniature painting bore different names throughout its development, such as the Palekh Artel of Ancient Painting (since 1924), Palekh Artists’ Association (since 1932), and Artistic Production Workshops of the Artistic Fund of the USSR (since 1953).
The lacquer art of Palekh has been called "a small miracle", a label particularly fitting since this style of box originates in the same village that specialized in religious icon-painting for centuries, up until 1917 (the year of the Russian Revolution). Many of the skills and techniques that were used in painting famous hand-painted Russian religious icons have been adopted and utilized in making these Palekh boxes. When you hold one of these lacquer boxes in your hand, you will realize that this is something truly special. These boxes have extraordinary detail, with fine lines painted in gold and contrasting colors. Artists use single-hair brushes, real gold and egg tempera. Palekh miniature is signed on the same pattern. On the cover of a thing there is a mark of the place of production (Palekh), the date (year) and the author's autograph.
This style of box also has a simple one-color background (usually red inside and black outside) which provides the most contrast with gold leaf accents. In addition to the extraordinary painting, the boxes have several layers of high gloss clear lacquer coating. The workmanship and attention to detail that has been passed on for many years by the Russian artisans are what makes the Palekh lacquer boxes famous worldwide. The artists never cut any corners when making these and every single detail is handmade or hand-painted. For centuries to modern days Palekh artists try to balance both agriculture and lacquer miniature art. The families that specialized before in creating lacquer miniature masterpieces became more and more rare and as a result, the lacquer icon-painting experienced a great decline in early 20th century. Today, the Palekh lacquer boxes remain in a high-demand both within Russia and around the world.
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