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Vietnamese Lacquer Paintings

Introduced from China centuries ago, the technique of using lacquer has a long tradition in Vietnam.

Other countries produce lacquer ware but only in Vietnam has the synthesis of traditional lacquer techniques and modern painting been successful.

The traditional lacquer technique was used for decorative items and handicrafts. When the French opened the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Hanoi in 1925 this lacquer technique was applied to paintings creating a new art form.

Lacquer is a clear sap coming from any of six species of trees growing in Vietnam. The main being the Rhus (or Toxicodendron) succedanea in the north and Melanorrhoea (or Gluta) laccifera in the south, traditionally known as the son tree.

Lacquer is harvested in the same way as rubber, by making an incision and letting sap flow. After the lacquer is harvested there is a long process before it is ready to use. This includes letting the lacquer settle for months so it can separate into three layers.

The board - Plywood. One layer of lacquer is applied to the plywood and left to dry. Cotton cloths soaked in clay are attached to both sides of the plywood. Smoothed and polished once dried. Repeated five times. Layers of black lacquer are then applied and the board is left to dry before being polished.

The final product is a piece of black board, very smooth and durable.

Materials commonly used:

White is produced from eggshell. Eggs from ducks are preferred.

Gold leaf and silver leaf. A thin layer of silver powder allows the black board to shine through and create a shade effect. Gold leaf is often applied as a final layer.

A range of other materials are also used such as shells, sand epoxy and clay.

Most bright colours are from artificial dyes mixed into the lacquer.

Making a lacquer painting is a long and arduous process and can take several weeks, depending on the materials used and how many layers are applied.

Using the traditional technique to create contemporary pieces of art is an important contribution by the Vietnamese to the art scene on a global scale.