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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Zhostovo! Painted Trays from Russia

Zhostovo Painting: from Russia, with love

Want to decorate your kitchen with something unique? Handpainted Zhostovo trays are exactly what you need. You will be amazed at the variety of shapes and the beauty of the paintings. Look at these pictures. Aren’t they fabulous?

Heart Shaped Zhostovo Tray
Heart Shaped Zhostovo Tray

The primary purpose of these trays is of course serving tea and snacks. But they are so much more than that. You can of course use them at your next tea or coffee party with your friends, or just decorate your house with them. Besides, they make perfect gifts.
The tradition of tray-making and Zhostovo painting has been passed down through generations of artists and continues today. The name of the handicraft comes from the name of a small village near Moscow called Zhostovo. This village is famous for its artists who have been specializing for more than two centuries only in one thing – tray painting. The handicraft appeared in the early 19th century under the influence of the Ural art of varnish painting. 

At the same time, Zhostovo painting technology has a lot in common with the lacquer painting that appeared in the village of Fedoskino at the end of the 18th century. First the metal trays are coated with a few layers of priming and oil varnish. Then the artists paint the trays with a soft brush and oil paints diluted with linseed oil. They mostly create floral ornaments. It may seem kind of boring at first, but when you look at those trays and see all the diversity of the pictures your doubts will disappear. Besides, those trays have different shapes: guitar-like, round, octangular or rectangular. Smooth curves are one of the characteristics of Zhostovo trays. Some of them also have delicate carved handles.
Zhostovo tray from Russia
Rectangular Zhostovo Tray
These wonderful hand-painted masterpieces are truly terrific. Did you know that each tray has its own unique, one-of-a-kind beauty? It also has a signature with the name of a person who made it and the artist who painted it.

The history of Zhostovo handicraft

As previously mentioned in this article, the unique technique of varnish painting first appeared in the Urals, namely in Nizhny Tagil. One of the workers in the Demidov factory invented crystal varnish which can be applied to iron, copper, or wood. Then, as the popularity of the craft grew, other workshops appeared in different parts of the country copying what the Ural masters did.
Thus, in 1825 a skillful master Osip Vishnyakov moved to Zhostovo and established his own workshop there. The Vishnyakovs were peasants who had bought their own freedom. They were talented craftsmen and successful entrepreneurs. Together they made various papier-mâché products and miniature paintings. Philippe Vishnyakov, the oldest member of the family, soon moved to Moscow, but his son Osip decided to settle in Zhostovo and launch his own little business there. And he had a good reason: at that time the region where Zhostovo village was (and is) located was a real center of craftsmanship. There were literally hundreds of workshops in that region making all kinds of beautiful things. In fact, there were 22 workshops only in Zhostovo, which was a tiny village then!
Osip made different little things like snuff-boxes, cigarette-cases and trays of papier-mâché. In 1836 those trays were brought to an exhibition, but they lost the competition because though they were beautiful, they were way too fragile and impractical. Iron trays from Nizhny Tagil got the first prize at that exhibition, and that caught Osip’s attention. He decided to give up papier-mâché and master the craft of making iron trays. And he did! However the masters in his workshop quickly learned about one huge disadvantage of metal trays: it was extremely inconvenient to paint them. So the craftsmen of Zhostovo created their own varnish, very much like the one used in lacquer miniature art. It was much more crack-resistant than the Nizhny Tagil varnish, and that was an important factor leading to the success of Zhostovo masters. Now very few people remember iron trays from Nizhny Tagil, but everybody knows Zhostovo.
Russian craft Zhostovo platter
Blue Floral Russian Tray

Both Nizhny Tagil and Zhostovo masters painted mostly flower bouquets on their trays, and that choice was not made by chance. It was influenced by Pavlovo Posad shawls, Kursk carpets, and famous Ivanovo sieves. The artists usually painted a mixture of garden and wild flowers, and the accuracy of even the smallest details was simply unbeatable. The edges of trays were painted with a light golden ornament. The paintings were very bright and full of life. Nowadays Zhostovo trays are known all over the world and you can’t mistake them for anything else.
Zhostovo trays were very popular throughout the 19th century. Rich merchants and ordinary workers bought Zhostovo trays and served meals on them or just used them as decoration because they were too beautiful to put food on them.
Of course the craft has had its own periods of decline. It happened in the early 20th century, after the war and the Revolution, and during the first hard years of Soviet rule. But in the early 1920s the handicraft was brought back to life by an artel of craftsmen who united into a factory called Metal Tray and later renamed it The Zhostovo Factory of Decorative Painting. In 1970s beautiful and elegant Zhostovo trays reached the highest point of their popularity. They were in high demand both in Russia and abroad. Foreign tourists often brought them as souvenirs from Russia along with matryoshkas, ceramic toys and famous shawls. The handicraft managed to survive during the economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And all through those tough times the masters of Zhostovo kept the tradition and continued doing what they can do best – making unique handpainted trays. Today the Zhostovo Factory of Decorative Painting employs over 240 artists.

Here’s how Zhostovo trays are made:

  1. The tray is made by hand. First a piece of iron is cut out. Then the smith shapes a tray with a hammer and anvil. In order to make the tray stronger the masters often roll a wire into the edge of their trays. However, nowadays metal sheets are often cut by a machine and then shaped by electric press.
  2. The tray is prepared for painting. That’s the stage when the trays are covered in putty, painted black and covered two or three times with varnish. Each layer is dried and cleaned with sandpaper, which is a fairly long process.
  3. The tray is painted. The first phase of painting is called “drawing” (“zamalyovka”) and the second one is called “adjustment” (“vypravka”). During the drawing stage an artist outlines the bouquet with a wide brush. After that the tray is left to dry for 12 hours at a specific temperature. Did you know that the artists don’t do any preliminary sketches on the trays? They totally rely on their skills and imagination, and they know that the picture has to be perfect from the beginning. As for the adjustment stage, it consists of several operations, during which the artists add small, even minute details and polish the trays with a rough cloth. Then the ornament is painted on the sides of the tray. At the end, they cover the painted tray with two or three layers of lacquer. Only then the tray is considered ready for selling.

Some facts about Zhostovo artists:

  1. Future artists start learning the craft at a very early age. Parents-artists give their children brushes, oils and other materials and play with them in order to teach them the basics of tray painting. The most talented children continue their apprenticeship and eventually become artists.
  2. Did you know that a craftsman works on several trays at once? An experienced artist can paint up to ten trays daily! And during the painting process the artist keeps the tray on his/her lap, so that the tray can be moved or rotated in any direction that the artist needs.
  3. Zhostovo artists know everything about the biological structure of flowers, but they seldom paint only real objects. Instead they let their imagination rule and often paint flowers that don’t exist mixing them with real life forms. Thus they create truly inimitable masterpieces.

You can see works of Zhostovo artists at various exhibitions and in museums all over the world now… And you can also enjoy them in our Russian store online. Their beauty is almost unreal and their quality is perfect, so you can be sure that your Zhostovo tray will stay with you for many years.


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