Chinese Lacquer

The Chinese have a long tradition of utilizing lacquer ware as both a decorative and protective surface for furniture and works of art. Chinese lacquer is a product from the sap of a tree called Rhus vernicifera - a variety of sumac. Chinese lacquer made from this tree is almost indestructible, as it repels insects, water, and does not conduct heat. Chinese lacquer adheres best to porous surfaces like softwood. Pine is one example, as the lacquer ware can penetrate the grain deeply, creating a very tight bond.

Besides being used for decoration, Chinese lacquer is also an adhesive. The lacquer the Chinese created can, when applied, minimize surface damage and make an object very durable. In recent years, archaeological finds have confirmed the use of sophisticated lacquer objects in China dating back to 772 BC and the Warring States period (481-221 BC). It was actually during the Warring States period that painted lacquer developed in China, in the southern state of Chu. Painted Chinese lacquer ware vessels, musical instruments and tomb models of animals were general found painted in black or red pigments, and often with swirl patterns.

In later years, such as in the Ming Dynasty (early in the 17th century) many exquisite objects, such as lacquer ware boxes, could be found. Beautiful colors and designs were painted on the boxes by mixing pigments with lacquer. During the 17th century, many craftsmen employed in the imperial workshops lost their positions as the government went out of control. These artisans discovered employment with the merchant and official classes, for whom they created beautiful Chinese lacquer ware works of art.