Lately, the Russian lacquered boxes that have hit the streets and shops are produced by inexperienced artists. There is a lot of money to be made as people unknowingly end up paying hundreds of dollars for fake boxes posing as genuine. This, in turn, results in a depletion of the income of the original artists.
There is another category of Russian lacquered art called reproductions. These are usually marked as ‘reproduction’, or are produced in such a way that they look different and are not confused with the original. The artist could add a personal item or something that was not part of the original painting to produce a copy that does not look like the original art even though it was inspired by the original. Also, not everyone who graduates from art schools goes to work in factories where the salary is much lower than what an artist can earn independently.
What makes things uncontrollable is that there is no copyright for the use of the names of the four art schools. Even fake and non-professional artists can use them. On the original Russian lacquer boxes, the writing on the bottom of the box is the title of the scene being performed, the name of the person who painted the box, and the name of the city in which it was made, which is synonymous with style.
One way to tell if your lacquer box is fake is to determine if it is made from papier-mâché or a cheap substitute. Russian papier-mâché lacquered boxes take 6-10 months to complete. Lately, both skilled and unskilled artists are switching to boxes made from non-traditional materials like wood, acrylic, or Argillite, speeding up the production process by many months.
The traditional process of curing papier-mâché boxes before the painting process begins is interrupted by substandard substitutes. To find out if a box is original or not, open the lid until it is half open and close the box. Papier-mâché produces a soft, muffled sound when closing. If the lid of the box closes with a sharp, woody snap, it’s likely not made from papier-mâché, but a cheap cardboard-based substitute.
Another gift of a fake Russian lacquer art box may come from inexperienced artists’ lack of knowledge of painting technique. The multilayer of a box creates a greater depth in the original work and almost creates the impression of a 3D image. Each coat of paint is covered 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 on Russian lacquer boxes, for example, is highly geometric and boasts a superior sense of construction that would not be the case with forgeries and imitations.