History

When lacquer made in East Asia first reached Europe in about the early 16th century, they were highly prized for their flawless finish and light-reflecting qualities.

The arduous process of lacquering was first developed and recognized as a highly artistic craft in China during the Shang Dynasty. Artisans decorated objects, such as vessels, boxes and trays, using viscous sap painstakingly applied and cured in multiple layers—sometimes up to 20 or more. Ground pigments from charcoal and cinnabar were added to the refined sap to produce color, which is why some of the earliest found lacquered objects are red or black.

With the rise of colonialism, an interest in lacquered pieces made its way into the Western world, eventually influencing important designers like furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale and designer and architect Eileen Gray. It is Gray who introduced lacquer to the modern form. She applied the Asian craft to spare, modern lines, such as her renowned gridded screens, spurring an instant obsession among collectors. The look was elegant, exotic and of the moment.

Characteristic

Pros

  • Dries very quickly – speeds production and minimizes dust problems.
  • Easy to spray.
  • Exceptional clarity, depth, and rubbing properties.
  • Easy to remove and repair.

Cons

  • Contains toxic, flammable, smelly, and air-polluting chemicals.
  • Average scratch and water vapor resistance, poor solvent and heat resistance.
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer yellows badly and may form cracks over time.

Lacquer in Vietnam

Sơn mài, or traditional Vietnamese lacquer painting, is not only famous for its fusion of local and French techniques, but also greatly valued because of the level of complexity and detail needed to create it.

First used during Vietnam’s feudal era, lacquer painting has evolved over time, especially in the 1930s when artists and students at the Hanoi University Fine Arts resurrected the medium, fusing it with French techniques and positioning it as a fine art.

Between its complexity, health hazards and long production times that can reach months, Vietnamese lacquer painting is a leading contender for the country’s most impressive art form.

Beautiful application of lacquer

Screen

Furniture

ESTUDIO PERSONA’S FURNITURE COLLECTION

HAY’S CREATIVE WORKSPACE

VIDIVIXI’S FURNITURE COLLECTION

KETTLE TABLE BY PATRICIA URQUIOLA

Wall

The lacquered look may have originated in Eastern Asia thousands of years ago, but it is as popular as ever today. Its true beauty lies in its resilience and versatility to adapt to the trends of the modern age.