Urushi Art : mix Japanese craftmanship into Lacquer painting of Vietnam

         Nhat Tran talked about Urushi and “Urushi Art” as her background in Vietnamese lacquer painting artist.

2 in 1 …Put the skill of Japanese craftmanship into Lacquer painting of Vietnam

Source : http://www.urushi-artist.com

A. Origin

  • The oldest lacquer artifacts found so far in Japanese tombs are 6,000 years old, while in Vietnamese tombs archaeologists have found many lacquered objects dating back to the fourth century B.C.
  • Urushi (the Japanese name for lacquer) is a viscous fluid organic material that comes from the milky sap of several varieties of an Asian tree belonging to the Anacardiacea family. Nearly all Southeast Asian countries have a variety of their own: in Japan, it is the Rhus vernicifera; in Cambodia, it is the Rhus Malanorrhea. Vietnam, too, has its own varieties, the most reputed being the Rhus Succedanea. Urushi should not be confused with industrial synthetic coatings that are used to impart a high gloss to surfaces.

B. Physical and technical characteristics

  • After the sap has been tapped, it is boiled, skimmed, and filtered through a hempen cloth to remove impurities. It is then stored in wooden barrels for several weeks and graded according to the age of the tree, the season it was collected, and the depth at which it separated after maturation.
  • Urushi is a medium with remarkable qualities. It is highly resilient and durable thanks to its biochemical properties (how its enzymes react both with oxygen and with proteins in order for urushi to cure and harden). Before painting begins, the support (plywood or polystyrene) is primed with ten layers of lacquer mixed with very fine clay.
  • As a result, it becomes very resistant, water-proof, insect-proof, and mold-proof, and the support is prevented from cracking, bending, or warping under fluctuations of temperature or humidity. Urushi also has strong adhesive properties: any material added to it binds with it permanently. In addition, it provides a rich array of esthetic effects of textures, dimensions, layers, colors, light, and shine.
  • Urushi products can last hundreds of years while retaining their glossiness, smoothness and elegance. Their colors do not fade with the impact of light and time, and amazingly, as the years go by and the pieces age, their colors keep getting deeper and become more luminous.
  • Artists mix urushi with color pigments and various natural dyes. Other embedding materials can be used, such as eggshell, mother-of-pearl, plant fibers, sand, and gold and silver leaf.


C. The Process of making urushi paintings

Making an urushi painting is a long and demanding process. It may take several months, depending on the specific technique of the artist, the number of urushi layers that are applied, and atmospheric conditions that are favorable enough for the lacquer to cure.

  1. Priming
  • Good priming is a long and arduous process, but essential to ensure long-term durability. Before urushi painting can begin, the support needs to be primed with ten coats of lacquer. Each coat must completely cover the support: front, back, and sides. Each of these coats needs to cure completely and then be sanded before the next one is applied.
  • The support is first painted with persimmon tannin to seal the surface and facilitate absorption, and then sanded. A first layer of raw urushi is applied and then sanded after it has dried.


  •  Thin sheets of hemp cloth are soaked in raw urushi and attached to cover tightly all sides of the support. A new layer of raw urushi is applied and then sanded after curing.
  • Subsequently, a foundation layer of urushi is applied mixed with ground clay. Four more such coats mixed with a decreasing ratio of ground clay and an increasing ratio of pulverized clay stone are then applied. Two more layers of raw urushi are applied to finalize the priming.
  • Once fully cured, the support is sanded and polished. When fully primed, the support is pitch black, perfectly smooth, and permanently protected against decay or damage caused by water, acids, heat, insects, and mold.
2.   Painting and Wet Sanding
  • If a particular design is needed, it is first drawn with a chalk on the fully-primed support.
  • The artist will then start to pile on layer after layer of a higher grade of urushi mixed with different colors (at least five coats in average, often much more, with curing and sanding taking place between each).
  • Mixing the dry pigment with urushi is time-consuming because both must be stirred together thoroughly and then filtered.
  • On some layers the artist applies extremely thin leaves of silver or gold to create background effects of light. Tiny pieces of crushed eggshell may be embedded with tweezers, one fragment at a time, wherever white color or a mosaic effect is needed.
Once no more additional layers or materials need to be applied, and once the work has again completely cured, the extremely delicate task of “painting by wet sanding” begins. This is an artistically risky and crucial step, for upon it depends the final external appearance of each painted panel. Using very finely grained sand paper (of a grade ranging from 400 to 2,000) and a constant flow of water on the surface, the artist begins “digging” into the layers, moving carefully her hand inch by inch, taking at every moment the decision to continue or stop sanding according to what pattern develops all around and to the textural effects she is determined to achieve. The artist must remember in what layer a particular color has been applied and must be careful not to sand too hard or too quickly to avoid passing through the desired layer and thus spoiling the painting. Specific color nuances can only be achieved by carefully sanding the interface between a given pair of layers.
3. Polishing and Finishing

The last stage is the polishing of the work, which takes the following steps.
  • First, the entire surface is wet-sanded with a very fine grain of paper and cleaned with clear water.
  • Then the same process is repeated with san-jet (an abrasive powder).
  • Using a piece of fine silk wrapped around a cotton ball, a very thin layer of a finishing urushi of the highest grade is applied in round motion, throwing away the silk as soon as it gets dark. The work is then put inside a muro (urushi-curing chamber) to let it cure.
  • After sanding, five layers of the clearest kind of urushi are applied to serve as a clear-coat protector.
  • Finally, the entire surface of the work is polished by rubbing it first with either a soft cloth or the bare palm of the artist’s hands until adequate depth of appearance and a wonderful sheen is obtained.

D. Care

  • The surface of clear lacquer is protective and durable. The only maintenance the artwork needs is dusting with a light soft feather duster or a soft dry cloth. If necessary, urushi paintings can be cleaned with almost anything that is not abrasive or harsh. Fingerprints can be removed by rubbing with a soft damp cloth and the surface needs to be dried immediately with a soft dry towel. A mild soap or alcohol can be used to remove stickier dirt. Rinse well with clear water and dry immediately with a soft paper towel.
  • No polishing or varnishing product should be applied to the paintings. If desired, one can easily polish the painting again with the palm of the hand to make it cleaner and shinier.

Artist: Nhat Tran

Nhat Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant, utilizes the 6000-year-old Japanese process of urushi (lacquer) painting. Through non-traditional usage of urushi techniques, she achieves stunning visual effects unobtainable in other media.

“Urushi is a viscous organic sap that is tapped from several species of Asian trees,” said Tran. “It is a highly resilient and durable medium that is impervious to water, heat, mold, and insects; it has very strong adhesive properties and polymerizes when curing; and it provides a full array of gorgeous effects of textures, depths, layers, colors, light, and shine. As the years go by and the pieces age, their colors keep getting richer and more intense.”

    Tran’s work contains up to 40 layers of lacquer, often embellished with exotic materials and precious metallic powders and foils between layers. Her sense of esthetic embraces the Asian soul. The result is elegant, understated, complex, and deserving of lengthy observation and contemplation.

Tran’s works are in numerous public and private collections, including the Renwick Gallery, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Indianapolis Airport Authority, and Indiana State Museum.

Nhat Tran express who she’s and about her works in her website http://www.urushi-artist.com

Trained as an oil painter since my youth, I have specialized over the last ten years (since 1998) in a magnificent medium that remains unusual in the United States despite its potential, namely Asian lacquer or urushi (after its Japanese name). Urushi is an art that reflects the esthetic sensibility of the Asian soul. Its mysterious beauty and universal appeal has always fascinated me, and thus urushi has become my primary medium of artistic expression.

Urushi is a viscous organic sap that is tapped from several species of Asian trees. It is a highly resilient and durable medium that is impervious to water, heat, mold, and insects; it has very strong adhesive properties and polymerizes when curing; and it provides a full array of gorgeous effects of textures, depths, layers, colors, light, and shine. As the years go by and the pieces age, their colors keep getting richer and more intense.

My non-traditional use of urushi has led me to discover how well it adapts to the demands of contemporary art. Lacquer painting produces visual effects that I cannot obtain with other media. I have produced a large number of two- and three-dimensional abstract paintings, usually on wood, but also on extruded polystyrene and fiberglass.

"Wing" The Indianapolis Airport Authority: commissioning of a large urushi lacquer mural


•  2010             Guest Researcher, Urushi Section in the Department of Crafts, Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai), Tokyo, Japan (April–July)

•  1987–1992   Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Fine Arts, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Graduation with highest distinction

•  1978–1983   School of Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


•  2009       Panelist for the Indiana Arts Commission (visual arts)

•  2003–present Teaching Artist, VSA arts of Indiana (VSAI), Indianapolis

•  2001       Associate Instructor, Herron School of Art, Indiana University, Indianapolis

Source : http://www.urushi-artist.com

The Lacquer Pavilion is visual highlight of the Museum and an extraordinary example of Thai art.

The Suan Pakkad Lacquer Pavilion

  • The Lacquer Pavilion is visual highlight of the Museum and an extraordinary example of Thai art, positioned at the edge of the garden.
  • The structure is more than 200 years old and it formerly stood in the precincts of a temple. The late Prince Chumbhot purchased the building and moved it to these grounds, then had it restored. The pavilion consists of a room within a room. A narrow corridor winds all the way around an inner room.
  •    The walls of the corridor are decorated in richly carved gilded wood. The interior of the inner room is decorated entirely in gold and black lacquer. The effect is stunning. The technique of lacquering in blak and gold was known in China for thousands of years but introduced to Thailand in the Ayutthaya period. The work portrays a uniform black background with details of the Life of Buddha on the the upper panels and scenes from the Ramakien on the lower portions.
  • As this building is a reconstruction of an earlier Ho Trai at Wat Bang Kling in Ayutthaya Province not all the aspects of traditional depictions are present now.
  • The paintings depict various events from the life of Buddha, along with others from the Hindu epic, Ramayara. There are also the numerous scenes from daily Thai life, as well as some showing early foreign visitors to Ayutthaya. These foreigners are depicted in the uniforms of the period of Louis XIV. In 1687 French troops were despatched to Siam to protect King Narai from English and Dutch forces.

Source: http://www.thailandsworld.com

The French Connection: Developing a Conservation Treatment Plan for Eighteenth Century Chinese Lacquer Panels Adapted for an American Beaux Arts-style House (part1)

Introduction In 1899, Horace Trumbauer, a Philadelphia architect, designed a grand summer house for Edward J. Berwind on prestigious Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, USA (Figure 1)

Trumbauer was a young and relatively unknown architect outside Philadelphia, though he would subsequently design several more mansions in Newport. He did not attend the École des Beaux Arts, as many of his American colleagues had, but was conversant in French classicism and modeled the Berwind house after the Château d’Asnières-sur-Seine, a quintessential eighteenth century French country house.

For the interiors, Trumbauer turned to the firm Allard et ses Fils of Paris. Jules Allard was well known for his work for the Vanderbilt families in New York, and was a much sought after designer, especially among Newport society. To compliment his eclectic interiors, the Berwind’s representatives acquired art and antique furniture from all over Europe. Berwind died in 1936 and his younger sister lived seasonally at the property until her death in 1961.

In 1962, the property was purchased by a developer who planned to build a shopping center. Immediate action by The Preservation Society of Newport County resulted in the preservation of the house and grounds, but the furnishings were sold at auction before the property was transferred. Furnishings have slowly returned due to loans and gifts and the Society continues to pursue important original art and furnishings.

In the northwest corner of the house is an oak paneled Breakfast Room in the Regency style with Chinoiserie detailing, including incense burners and dragon motifs in compo on the ceiling; charming Oriental-esque figures on the room’s sideboards; and 4 very large black and gold decorated panels and 3 overdoor panels, similarly decorated (Figure 2).

Three of the large panels are Asian lacquer. A fourth large panel was supplied by the Allard firm and was presumed to have been fabricated using European methods such as japanning or vernis Martin. The overdoor panels have fragments of Asian lacquer that have been filled out using japanning.

The panels are described in the curatorial record as:

A SET OF THREE CHINESE BLACK AND GOLD LACQUER WALL PANELS (Chinese, 18th century); (K’ang Hsi Period, 1662-1722); together with three matching overdoors and a wall panel in black and gold lacquer from the workshops of Allard et ses Fils of Paris (French, circa 1900); all finely painted in tones of gold, with figures strolling and conversing within elaborate pavilions enclosed by rockeries and foliage, the larger panels with borders of landscape vignettes, Fu lions and birds, the smaller panels with graceful arrangements of flowering branches enlivened with songbirds; all on black grounds.

’ The use of lacquer panels in this manner is a fascinating twentieth century reprise of this material in a Beaux Arts mansion, much as it was used in Versailles and other of the great châteaux of France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Very little remains in-situ there today, though there are black and gold pilaster panels from the hôtel du Maine (1723), subsequently removed to the hôtel Pontalba, now the residence of the American Ambassador to France. A set of red lacquer panels originally for the hôtel du Châtelet (1770) is now on exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris [1]. Asian lacquer panels have been studied and treated in their original eighteenth century architectural installations at Schloss Falkenlust near Brühl in the Rhineland [2], Palais Esterházy [3] and Schloss Schönbrunn [4] (Figure 3) in Vienna, and at the Chinese Pavilion at Drottningholm in Sweden [5].

The panels are vital to the interpretation of the house: as part of the original architecture, they have a high level of value due to the degree of authenticity of context, materials, and surface. A General Conservation Assessment conducted for the Preservation Society in 2003 led to the development of a Long-range Collections Preservation Plan, in which the treatment and continued preservation of these panels is one of the Preservation Society’s highest priorities.1

General Condition

The Elms panels have all the problems typical of lacquer and japanning, most due to inherent vice, adverse environmental conditions, and restoration treatments over the years: undulating and cracked boards (Figure 4), cleaving lacquer (Figure 5), peeling paint (Figure 6), discolored surfaces (Figure 7), and darkened, inappropriate materials (Figure 8). 1

1.General Conservation Survey funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, 2003 

Figure 5: Lifting lacquer Figure 7: Discolored surface: degraded varnish Figure 8: Inappropriate materials Figure 6: Peeling paint on a japanned surface There is relatively little decorative loss to the lacquer panels, though the same cannot be said for the japanned surfaces. It was considered necessary to develop a treatment strategy that would ensure the preservation of these important objects.


In 2005, a report was commissioned to develop a rationale for the project [6]. Subsequent encouragement led to the award, in 2007, of a Getty Foundation Architectural Planning Grant to more fully develop a treatment plan. Working with the Preservation Society’s Chief Conservator, a consultant experienced in the treatment of lacquer as well as period rooms was hired to perform an inspection and document the condition and the nature of the materials. The available lacquer conservation literature was examined, and a trip was made to Vienna to study architecturally engaged lacquer panels at Schloss Schönbrunn and Palais Esterházy. Site and studio visits were made with Silvia Miklin-Kniefacz, the conservator who treated the panels, during which materials and techniques were discussed. These activities resulted in a deeper understanding of the panels, their manufacture and construction, subsequent degradation, and possible limits of restoration.

(Melissa Carr, Masterwork Conservation, 69 Webcowet Road, Arlington, MA, 02474,USA )

Possible provenance

The history of the appetite for and acquisition of Asian lacquer objects has been well documented in the literature [7] [8] [9] [10]. The specific style of a black lacquer surface with slightly raised gilded decoration featuring domestic scenes, birds, flowers, etc., was popular in the early seventeenth century, and, after a decline in popularity, became highly fashionable again at the end of the century and well into the eighteenth [11], notably in France, Russia, Germany, Vienna, and Sweden. Lacquer case goods were desirable and so were screens, perhaps especially so. As the Chinoiserie “effect” became more important than the object itself, screens offered a considerable amount of lacquer real estate, being decorated on both sides; they could be split so each could be used. Often quoted in the literature, Roubo in his l’Art du Menuisier (1769) instructs how to saw the lacquer off a substrate for use as a veneer for use on furniture.

Reflecting a measure of the popularity of the lacquer screen, in 1697 the East India Company recorded the export of “60 cabinets, viz. 20 of engraved work, the ground gold, with landscapes and figures, “20 sets of screens, 12 leaves in a set, 8, 9, and 10 feet high by 20 to 24 inches broad; black & gold, with landscapes & figures engraved on a gold ground” [12].

4 In 1664, Louis XIV’s financial minister Colbert set up the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, in order to institute their own Asian trade. The Compagnie headquartered in Siam where they worked with Chinese traders, and eventually settled in Canton when that port was opened in 1699 to foreigners. In 1700, for example the cargo of one voyage, sold at Nantes, included “45 trunks of screens” which was called “vernis de la chine Amphitrite” [13].

The marchands merciers, may have ordered direct but did also buy at auction; one merchant bought at St. Malo from the vessel Comte de Toulouse, in 1720, “five cases containing sixty leaves, four containing ninety six, and two containing fifty four, making a total of thirty five screens @400 livres – a year’s pay for skilled manual work in Paris — or 14,000 livres worth of lacquer screens, probably Chinese [14]. It is perhaps notable that some of the lacquer panels are referred to as “feuilles” (leaves) instead of “paravents” (screens) suggesting that their importance was as raw materials rather than decorative object themselves. In any case, it is quite a lot of lacquer and there was clearly a busy and lucrative pathway to France.

The furnisher of the Elms interior was the Parisian decorator Jules Allard (1832-1907). He attended the École des Arts Décoratifs, took over the family furniture manufactory, and eventually provided complete interiors, including furnishings, sculpture, hangings, and mounted paintings. Allard was an antiques dealer as well as a salvager and collector, acquiring architectural materials from demolished châteaux and hotels. Through collaborations with Richard Morris Hunt, the first American architect to attend the École des Beaux Arts, he was introduced to New York (and Newport) society. He became known as the “Vanderbilt decorator”, a designation that led to work for others in society and the architects who served them, such as Trumbauer.

By the 1890s Allard had an office in New York and had built a new factory in Paris. In it could be found quantities of architectural salvage – paneling, sculpture, ceiling and overdoor paintings, mirrors, mantels, and molds and plaster casts of historic ornament as well as lumber storage, woodcarving shop, cabinetmaking and chair shop, marquetry shop, metal and bronze workshops, and paneling shop. The firm was fully prepared to address all the decorative arts needs of their clients, including the fabrication of new boiseries from in-house designs and to repair, restore, or rework historic paneling [15].

As a collector of historic materials, Allard could very possibly have come into the possession of a group of lacquer panels, perhaps custom ordered by a marchand mercier and subsequently salvaged from an eighteenth century Parisian townhouse. The firm would have been perfectly capable of processing the antique panels as necessary and providing a fourth to match. Unfortunately, no relevant company records have been found.


All the large panels show scenes and landscapes common on screens from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In each case, a large central scene is enclosed by a narrow gilded border. At the perimeter of the panel are cartouche panels depicting landscapes, Spring scenes from nature, and in the bottom corners, the mythical creature Qilin, wreathed with “heavenly fire”, who symbolizes longevity, goodness, wealth, compassion, and wisdom. The order of the cartouches is nearly the same for all the panels. There is a final gilded border surrounding the cartouches with lotus flowers and calligraphy-like 5 Figure 9: North 18th century Panel filigree. This pattern is identical with a decorative border on a screen at Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria [16].

The large panels are in two pairs. The central designs for the panels on the north (Figure 9) and south walls are exactly the same except for the position of the moon and some rocky structures. There is a pyramidal roof extending through the clouds and, similarly, a column with a Fu dog, or temple lion, sitting on top. There are female figures – divine beings – on clouds and a phoenix delivering a scroll from them to a group of people on a terrace or viewing platform below. The phoenix, associated with the Empress and inhabiting the regions of heaven, comes to earth to herald great events for mortals [17]. The landscape is steep and mountainous, and the general tone of the design is contemplative, with, other than the central group, two pairs of strolling, conversing female figures.

The east panel and the west (Figure 10), which is the circa 1901 “modern” copy, are similarly organized but domestic and leisurely in tone. An island dwelling in a lake with a surrounding rocky landscape is reached by a bridge. Small groups of adults interact, children play, and animals are present. A crane, symbol of happiness and longevity, struts on a terrace [18].


As a group, the 4 panels are large. The antique panels are approximately 203 cm (80”) wide and 305 cm high (120”). The “modern” panel is 190 cm (75”) wide and the same height. Each of three antique panels is made by joining three 69 cm (27”) wide sections, initially thought to be a 3-panel screen – though the height seems extreme.

( to be continue in part2 ) …………………………………………………………..

This project was supported by an Architectural Planning Grant from the Getty Foundation. Grateful
acknowledgement is also due those whose funding prepared the way: The Berwind Foundation and John
Brooks. Arlen Heginbotham of the Getty Museum and Michael Schilling of Getty Conservation Institute
prepared and analyzed samples, without which we would be ignorant of vital information. We are also
indebted to those who had faith in the project and who were of help in the planning, discovery, and
implementation: Antoine Wilmering, Marianne Webb, Melissa Carr, and Silvia Miklin-Kniefacz.


La Laque : Technique of The Lacquer (Jean Dunand’s work)

image from jean-dunand.org

La Laque
(translated from http://www.jean-dunand.org)

All the historians of art agree to recognize that it is in China, and not in Japan, that would have been born art from the lacquer. It would have been imported in Japan with the Life century, when the influence of Chinese civilization had been essential there with the penetration of Buddhism. What seems undeniable, on the other hand, it is that, after having been a simple mode of protection of the current ustensils, i.e. an indigenous art, it is only one century later that the art of the lacquer would have been codified. It is from there that the Japanese artists would have made some progress the techniques until making of it a specific art of their country. Their works, since the very simple and very pure lacquers of VIIe century until those of one dazing skill of the XVIIIe century, testify some unambiguous.

It should be noted that, in French, the word lacquer is male when one speaks about a work carried out in this matter, and female when one indicates the matter itself. Thus, one will say of a decorated panel that it is “about a lacquer”, whereas it is specified that he was carried out with “lacquer”.

The natural lacquer is the result of an exudation caused by incision on the tree trunks to lacquer which push in China (it is about the rhus succedanea), in Japan (it is the rhus will vernicifera) and in this country which one named, until 1946, Tonkin, where a named variety succedanea dumoutieri proliferated. The latex of these various forest gasolines or culture being besides identical. The tree is however exploitable only between its third and its eighth year. During this five years period, it gives, following incisions, a kind of latex resin which is a crémeux liquid of color and aspect. The trees then have three to four meters in height and harvest must be made with the shelter burning sun like rain, since the first would cause a beginning of evaporation and that the second would dilute the product. The latex is collected in shells of moulds of river placed at the base of the incisions. Collected in tight enamelled and hermetically closed containers in basket making, it is dispatched out of barrel in the merchants wholesalers who treat it to be able to resell it.

These are the long and delicate operations which determine the quality of the lacquer. It is initially necessary to carefully filter it through a fine fabric, by simple torsion, in order to it débarasser of all the impurities. Then, it is necessary to let it rest during several months in baskets of bamboos enamelled and closed hermetically by rice sheets of paper stuck well. These baskets are then stored in an obscure and fresh cellar in order to let the lacquer only elutriate itself after having caused an evaporation. The latex already changed aspect: of milky white, it became slightly amber. With time, the product is divided naturally into layers of various densities. Each one corresponds to lacquers of different marketable quality, which makes it possible to classify them in lacquer of varied prices and use. These lacquers obtained by decantation are named natural lacquers, the layer of the top, most fluid thus, giving the higher quality with which the Masters lacquerers will work the last layers of their work. The following layers, less and less aqueous as one takes them towards the bottom, are of lower quality and will be useful for the underlayers or the preparations, by mixing them with other products such as sawdust, ground, filings or other matter of decoration.

image from jean-dunand.org

The lacquer adheres on all kinds of materials, in addition to wood, like metals, coppers, money, tin, copper nickel zinc alloy, gold, aluminium, but also as the stone, cement, glass, leather, paper and even pyrex. However, as a good to make it hang on the supports offering few asperities, it has catches, and one carries out in this case a sanding intended to make surface less smooth. On the other hand, it burns fabrics, except those out of natural silk. Wood the most adapted to receive the lacquer should not be too hard, nor too dense, so that the first layers of lacquer can penetrate well there. Moreover, they must have a grain as regular as possible and not to have hard veins and alternate tender veins in a too marked way, nor to present nodes or defects. The walnut tree of our campaigns, the lime, the tulipier or the mahogany tree constitute the best supports which are.

On the matters which support heat without deformation, the lacquer is hardened by a cooking with the furnace between 150 and 250° C. Started with 96° C, the hardening of the matter gives, until 120° C, of the lacquers of clear colour whereas with 180° C its colors sink more and more, until taking an aspect flaring. These hot oxidized lacquers are extremely resistant and hard and it is by this process that Japanese traditionally decorated the armours or the guards with sabre. On all the other matters, the only manner of making harden the lacquer is to place it in a wet and tepid atmosphere where a natural fermentation and the oxidation of water will act little by little. Once hardened, the natural lacquer is not contestable by any solvent and resists the chemical agents of any nature, just like it resists the bacteria. It constitutes an excellent electrical insulator besides and resists heat until 400°/450° C since it starts to be carbonized only with 550° C. On the other hand, the liquid lacquer is an extremely harmful product which causes at certain subjects an allergy. This dermite surface, if it is not serious, is very unpleasant and can reach a person who, without touching the lacquer, leans simply above.

, 1935@artmuseumtouring.com”]To obtain transparent but coloured natural lacquers, it is necessary to churn with the hand, using a pallet out of wooden, the roadbase of the elutriated mixture. According to the duration of the operation and the number of revolutions, one obtains at the end of ten – twelve days, a beautiful color which goes from fair clearly to brown dark. It is this natural ambrée lacquer which constitutes the basic commodity of the work of decoration of the lacquer. The black lacquer is another basic commodity, undoubtedly most beautiful. It is also obtained by churning of the natural lacquer, but by using a soft iron bar instead of the pallet out of wooden. The container must be out of sandstone, and not in basket making as it is of use to obtain the ambrée lacquer. It is the iron oxide of the metal bar which, in contact with the air, blackens the transparent lacquer. As for the lacquers of color, they are extremely difficult to obtain. The starting point is always the churned lacquer of the first quality in which one mixes vegetable powder pigments. The red is obtained with vermilion, the yellow with orpiment, the green by adding indigo to orpiment, the white being in theory impossible to obtain. That being, it should well be understood that very few dyes are appropriate for the lacquer, the majority resulting in ‘ preventing this one to harden it, or to make turn to the black during its hardening. In the workshop of Jean Dunand, it is his Bernard son who will launch out in the settling of lacquers of color. He will manage to vary tons them and the values in a completely remarkable way, encouraged by his father who found in these innovations matter to use them personally.

The operation of lacquering itself initially consisted in coating with the brush the support prepared beforehand, by recovering it of a layer of natural lacquer. With this intention, only of the made flat brushes of Chinese hair were usable bus of the hairs of small-gray, of bear or of marten were too flexible, while the hair of horse, silks of pig or the ox hairs had been too thick and would not have failed to trace cords in the lacquer, by leaving marks there. One never should lose sight of the fact that the consistency of the natural lacquer is rather close to that of liquid honey and that least trailed matter in extra thickness is reflected from one layer to another. Because of this consistency, the lacquer only extends very slowly. These brushes, which one made come from the Extême-East, consist of two wood plates between which is enchased the hair over a width from 1 to 6 cm and a length from fifteen to twenty centimetres, wood plates letting exceed with the one of the ends of the brush one centimetre of hair cut in bevel. Once this used hair, it was enough to cut the brush like a pencil, then to perfect bevel by friction on an abrasive support. The first layer of natural lacquer is initially put to harden five to six days, then it is sandpapered with the very fine sandpaper. One proceeds then to a entoilage in flax which will arm the lacquer and will be used to hide the structure of wood. This fabric fine, stuck itself with natural lacquer, is put in its turn to harden during five to six days. Then, one coats the support of several layers of lacquer mingled with very fine sawdust filtered, in order to stop the pores of fabric and to make disappear any trace from undulation. This kind of cement is applied with a pallet in horn. Each layer (it must of as much as necessary so that surface becomes absolutely plane) must then dry in wet chamber during six to fifteen days then, once have dried there, to be sandpapered with water with long corundum stones. The following layers are lacquers with the filtered ground applied with brushes in hairs of tail of buffalo. This Indochinese ground, which can also be kaolin, is increasingly fine as the layers are superimposed. There cannot be less than five, but that can go up to fifteen. Each one in its turn being obviously sandpapered with water after six to ten days of hardening in wet atmosphere. Moreover, between each one of these layers to the ground, one alternates a layer of natural lacquer intended to nourish the preceding ones and to harden them.

Once all these finished operations of preparation, the surface of the support is completely plane. It is then only that one applies the decorative lacquers. Five to six layers will be again necessary by using lacquers of increasingly beautiful quality which, in their turn, will have to harden two or four days each one, while being successively sandpapered to the charcoal. Once finely subdued, the last layer is then polished by employing water and charcoal out of powder, then by using oil and an extremely fine ground placed on cotton. The last completion is very often carried out with the palm of the hand and of the powder of horn of stag calcined. The unit, once finished, will not have more than three to four millimetres thickness and one will have needed a six months minimum to carry it out, if not nine pennies our moderate climates European.

The processes of decoration of the lacquer are innumerable. Simplest is the lacquer painted which is obtained by drawing the decorative reason with a dry point, then to take it again with lacquers of color which form, thus superimposed, a light relief. One thus has all the pallet of the lacquers of color, opaque or transparent, which can be employed in flat tints, for frank or degraded contours or of clouds purposes. The gold lacquer is obtained by applying metal out of very fine crushed powder or sheets to lacquer coldly posed, and by processes which vary according to whether it is wanted matt or brilliant.

image from jean-dunand.org

Among the most spectacular processes, a special place must be held for the egg shell drowned in the lacquer, of which Jean Dunand made a great use. This process was already used by Japanese to decorate with the handles or the sleeves of sabre, but it is Jean Dunand who, the first, used it in large surfaces to replace the white which did not exist in the coloured lacquers. Use of this unexpected matter, because it is truly about the shell of eggs of hen or of duck, allowed him to obtain cracked white of a very subtle and spectacular effect. After being washed, then débarassée of the internal skins, the shell is crushed delicately, then filtered in order to use the fragments according to their size. Each one of these negligible particles is then posed, using a grip, on a layer of fresh lacquer, while free in and out placing them like a mosaic and by laying out them according to the projected drawing. They are then sandpapered to obtain a smooth surface, then drowned in a new layer of transparent lacquer in order to fill the interstices. According to the sought effect, the lacquer of cover (or that in which the egg shell is drowned) can be ambrée or black, which also gives very beautiful nuances.

Jean Dunand"La Chasse"@1stdibs.com_01 Jean Dunand"La Chasse"@1stdibs.com_02Jean Dunand"La Chasse"@1stdibs.com_03

The lacquer lends itself well to all kinds of incrustations. Those can be levelling, as in the case of the egg shell or the metal filings, but they can also be made with thicker matters, like white mother-of-pearl or with shells with the moired reflections, said burgau. In the same way, the ivory, carved or in fine plate, can be encrusted.

Another spectacular process, the torn off lacquer, less sensitive to the shocks and the stripes. Used mainly for the mountings of pieces of furniture or folding screens, but also for broad surfaces of less quality, it is obtained by applying to lacquer coldly posed a wood spatula which one supports and which one raises abruptly, thus causing by adherence a granulation in wavelets which is then slightly sandpapered to soften the grain of surface.

In addition, another spectacular technique consists in engraving the surface obtained after successive lacquerings, technique known as of Coromandel. Engraving is carried out, not while pushing with a chisel as on wood, but by withdrawing the matter using tools in the shape of hook. That makes it possible to avoid all glares or scales which would not fail to occur if one proceeded differently.

One of most beautiful qualities of the lacquer, and what differentiates it from all the products of imitation, it is the depth of its matter: the glance, not stopping on the polished aspect of surface, penetrates within the thickness of the layers superimposed where plays, by transparency, the light without never being considered truly.

Artist: Master Nguyen Gia Tri (1)

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Nguyen Gia Tri_Vietnamese_Lacquer Painting artist

Nguyen Gia Tri_Lacquer Painting

Nguyen Gia Tri, the Great Artist and Philosophy in East Asia.

Art as Religion.
His teaching was significant. As written in book of his follower ”  Nguyen Xuan Viet”; master lacquer painting and poet

Nguyen Gia Tri; He was one of the leading artists in Vietnamese Lacquer painting, especially during the years 1938 to 1944.  The lacquer painting was at its height during that period.  His work was carefully created and has magic beauty. Through layers of colors and the process of lacquer painting, Nguyen Gia Tri experimented with new colors such as bright yellow which gave a velvet look, and various mediums such as eggshells and precious stones.

The Effects of Traditional Lacquer from
The Pioneers Era 

Lacquer was discovered as a medium in painting by sheer accident, but it quickly conquered both artists and art connoisseurs. One day, Vietnamese painter Nam Son took J. lmguimberty to the Temple of Literature to paint. There, the French artist was struck by the charming colour of the lacquer paint on the centuries-old wooden altars, boards of ancient writings, and beams. J. Inguimberty then suggested to his students to apply the traditional lacquer technique to painting.

Among the many local artists that researched the new medium, Nguyen Gia Tri was the first one to succeed. Though he applied both Western and modem painting approaches, the lacquer techniques he used were purely Vietnamese. Nguyen Gia Tri set the norms for lacquer painting. Looking at his paintings, one always has the impression that they are reflections of objects beneath an even, clear water surface. Amid layers of shiny amber materials, the gentle young ladies came to life, moving, standing, sitting, chasing butterflies, picking flowers, or strolling by a lotus lake. The different details combine into rhythmic undulations to create a mixed contrast of simplicity and luxury. Some of his works created during the early 1940s – at the height of his success – such as By the Side of Restored Sword Lake and Spring Garden, are still valued as masterpieces of Vietnamese lacquer painting. Other lacquer painters such as Tran Van Can, Nguyen Van Ty, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Le Pho, Nguyen Khang, Pham Hau and Tran Quang Tran were less successful than Nguyen Gia Tri, but they all contributed to asserting the uniqueness of Vietnamese lacquer painting. The themes they often employed were landscapes, temples and pagodas, bridges, bamboo groves, rivers, the sea and mountains. Of particular interest is Tran Van Can7s folding screen Farewell to a Candidate to the Triennial Literary Examination which depicts a scene of villagers seeing off a candidate to the royal examination, using folkloric stylization and traditional lacquer colours of crimson, black, brown and gold.

Nguyen Gia Tri

North-Centre-South Spring Garden, 1970-1990. Lacquer. Painted by Nguyen Gia Tri

Another group of lacquer painters including Pham Duc Cuong, Le Quoc Loc, Nguyen Van Que, Ta Ty and Manh Quynh developed lacquer painting into decorative art, inclining towards dark colour, solemnity and antiquity. 

Source: From: Viet Nam Cultural Window, No 29 – August 2000 / Website: http://www.lachonggallery.com
Copyright © 1998-2009 Lac Hong Gallery

Artist: Jean Dunand

| Author: | Filed under: Art Deco, Artist, Japanning, Jean Dunand, Lacquer, Urushi, Western | Leave a comment

image of Jean Dunand from http://www.jean-dunand.org

He is considered the greatest lacquer artist of the Art Deco period

JEAN DUNAND  (1877-1942)

Dunand, Jean (Swiss sculptor and japanner, 1877-1942, active in France)
Note: He was trained as a sculptor and later explored the potentially more lucrative field of decorative arts, particularly metalworking. He was very successful and his pieces were regularly included in important exhibitions. He used lacquer as a decorative finish for metal objects. Swiss craftsman.

Source: Union List of Artist Names Online Full Record Display (http://www.getty.edu)

Jean Dunand at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan VASE, http://www.dia.org

Biography part about Lacquer
( http://www.jean-dunand.org)

The year 1912 constitutes the second great turning of its career: on February 18, it has appointment with the Master of the japanner Seizo Sugawara. Dunand already worked the lacquer a little, but with an only aim of preventing its vases of rust. Having foreseen artistic use potential for its own works, he seeks to be made initiate with the secrecies of this thousand-year-old art. After this first meeting, took place of the lessons during which Seizo Sugawara initiated Dunand while revealing to him against any waiting the old ones and traditional processes of the lacquer Eastern. Its personal research enabled him to progress in this way without to immediately deliver to the public the object of his research. Estimating itself sufficiently not prepared, it continued to expose its dinanderies without utilizing the lacquer in its decorations

read more on His “La Laque : Technique of The Lacquer (Jean Dunand’s work on Lacquer process)”

Jean Dunand / http://www.metmuseum.org


Jean Dunand / http://www.metmuseum.org

see closer look here


Jean Dunand / http://www.metmuseum.org

see closer look here

‘JOSEPHINE BAKER’, 1927 Gouache…available for auction from the fabulous collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge February 23 – 25 at Christie’s.

same design in Lacquer + Gold


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read more on His “La Laque : Technique of The Lacquer (Jean Dunand’s work on Lacquer process)”

read more on His Personal Information