Lacquer ware is one of the oldest arts. China, Japan and India have great traditions in the craft. The lacquered objects of these countries are praised for their richness of colour, beautiful designs and fine finish. Salarjung museum has a good collection of all these products.

Chinese lacquer ware

Like so many of its other arts, lacquer ware is traced to remote antiquity in China. It was in existence in the middle of the first millennium BC. In the beginning lacquer in China appears to have been applied on objects as a protective coat but soon it became medium for decoration. Lacquer was put to a number of uses by the Chinese. Lac is obtained in the form of sap from ‘Chi shu’, a species of trees cultivated in China. Lac can be given various colours of which the important are, black, red, brown and yellow. The base on which the lacquer is applied is usually wood, though other bases such as porcelain and brass are used. Some of the decorations used in lacquer are: painted lacquer, carved lacquer and relief ornament

But by far the best known lacquer ware is ‘Coromandel lacquer’. It consists chiefly of screens of considerable size and often in folds containing three dimensional rendering of natural, religious, and palace scenes. There was great demand for these screens in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. This demand was met by the East India Company, which exported large quantities of this ware from the Coromandel coast in India, thus providing name for this ware.

Japanese Lacquer ware:

The Japanese lacquer stands as an art by itself. It has glorious history going back to 8th century AD. Using lacquer the Japanese made stands, screens, cabinets and tables. The basis of lacquer is almost always wood although metal was sometimes employed. The application of lacquer is an elaborate process, as many as 20 or 30 applications being made. The painted decorations done, sometimes in gold, consist of landscapes, birds, flowers, architecture and other subjects. The pearl-shell inlay is the chief beauty and merit of the Japanese lacquer.

The Museum’s Japanese exhibits include a cabinet richly decorated in black lacquer, a plate and a box, exquisitely decorated in pearl-shell in lay, a few boxes and stands, one writing table dated to Tokugawa period (17th to 19th centuries) inlaid with flowers and birds worked in pearl-shell.

Indian Lacquer ware:

Indian lacquer or Lac turnery is one of the oldest Indian crafts. In terms of lacquer ware it is at least four hundred years old. In recorded history Lac is first mentioned in ‘Aaine Akbari’ written by Abul Fazl in 1590 AD.

Lac is a gummy deposit obtained from crimson-red tiny insects which thrive on certain species of trees. The process of using lacquer in decorating the wooden or papier-mache articles is known as ‘Lac turnery’ or Indian lacquering. Lacquer is used in the form of variegated coloured lacquering sticks and is applied on wooden articles while they are turned on lathe. Ornamental lacquering which demands dexterity of hand and imagination consist of -- Abri or cloud work, Atishi or fire work, Nakshi or pattern work, Tin foil decoration.

Lacquered boxes, trays, tobacco jars, ash trays of Kashmir; plaques, boxes, round plates of Nirmal and furniture articles of Banaganapalli of Andhra Pradesh are some of the well-known products, that find a place in the museum collection.

B. Kotaiah

Dep. Keeper (Retd)

Salarjung Museum

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