Uncovering the Ancient Glory of Vietnamese Lacquer Painting

Lacquer art has a century-old tradition and history. The sheer beauty of this traditional art form can be well ascribed to the immense efforts that go into the making of lacquer art piece. The lacquer was introduced by the Chinese for making various decorative items and handicrafts. Wooden structures of temples, communal houses, and pagodas were red-lacquered and trimmed with gold in the early centuries. Similarly, altars, pillows, panels etc were lacquered with brilliant sparkling colors.

Lacquer paintings shot to fame post 1930 when Vietnam artists were being taught the invaluable lessons on art. Combining the artistic geniuses of Manet, Degas, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir with their indigenous art forms, lacquer art reached the height of its glory.

Lacquer, in its raw form, is a clear sap derived from the bark of six species of trees grown in the North and South Vietnam. Fresh lacquer is whitish and turns brown when exposed to air. Colors in lacquer are obtained by mixing various substances like cinnabar for red or duck egg shells for white color. Some egg shells are even burned to obtain a brownish tinge.

Lacquer painting is a long and strenuous process; it may take months, sometimes even years depending on the technique used by the artist. The process involves application of layers of lacquer on a prepared wooden board. Each layer has to dry completely before a second layer application.

Vietnamese lacquer paintings have earned a good clientele in recent times where art connoisseurs from every corner of the world have shown great interest in this art form.