The Bane of Fake Russian Lacquered Boxes

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Of late, Russian lacquered boxes that have hit the streets and shops are produced by untrained artists. There’s plenty of money to be made, as people unwittingly end up paying hundreds of dollars for fake boxes that are passed off as genuine. This in turn translates into depletion of revenue for the original artists.

There is yet another category of Russian lacquered art called reproductions. These generally come marked as ‘reproduction’, or are produced in such a way as to seem different and not to be mistaken for the original. The artist might add a personal element or something that was not part of the original painting to produce a copy that doesn’t resemble the original art although it was inspired by the original. Furthermore, not all who graduate from the art schools go to work in the factories where the salary is a lot lower than what an artist can earn independently.

What makes things uncontrollable is that there are no copyrights for the use of names of the four schools of art. Even non-professional and fake artists can use them. In original Russian lacquer boxes, the writing on the bottom of the box is the title of the scene that is being depicted, the name of the person who painted the box and the name of the town it was made in, which is synonymous with the style.

One way to find if the lacquer box is a fake is to determine whether it is made of papier-mâché or a cheap substitute. Russian papier-mâché lacquered boxes take anywhere from 6 to 10 moths for completion. Lately, trained as well as untrained artists are switching to boxes made from non-traditional materials such as wood, acrylic, or Argillite, which hastens up the production process by many months.

The traditional process of curing the papier-mâché boxes before the process of painting begins is thus cut short by substandard substitutes. To find out if a box is original or not, open the cover till it is half open and shut the box. Papier-mâché produces a soft and muffled sound on closing. If the lid of the box closes with a sharp, woody click then it is likely not to be made of papier-mâché, but some cheap cardboard based substitute.

Another give-away of a fake Russian lacquer art box can stem from the untrained artists’ lack of knowledge of the painting technique. Multi-layering of a box, creates greater depth in the original work and almost creates the impression of a 3D image. Every layer of painting is coated with more layers of lacquer and this technique is so sophisticated that it can take years to learn and many more to master.

An artist often pays attention to minute details. The gold leaf ornamentation in the Russian lacquer boxes for example, are very geometrical and boast of superior sense of construction which would not be the case with the fakes and imitations.