Vietnamese Lacquerware


The Introduction Of The Vietnamese Lacquerware

As a traditional fine art which goes back many years in Vietnam though no one knows for sure how many, Vietnamese lacquerware was handed down from generation to generation as a family secret until the first half of the 20th century when the renovation in the field led by excellent artists of Indochina Fine Arts school in Hanoi made the occupation popular not only in Vietnam but also all over the world.

Since then, the legend of Vietnamese lacquerware has really come true. Many generations of lacquer artists have gradually enhanced the quality of Vietnamese lacquerware in the last seventy years; discovering new materials to add to the palette of colored lacquers, the method of mixing various colors, the process of creating the lacquerware and particularly the technique of rubbing the lacquerware in water .The lacquerware seems to carry something now appears now disappears passionately, ardently and magically. Many artists always say that the first time they really saw the lacquer, it was its blackness that impressed them. It is the black of the universe holding all things and having incredible depth to it.

The Recent History And Development Of The Vietnamese Lacquer Art

Nguyen Gia Tri, Vietnamese lacquer artist virtuoso whose gorgeous works and impeccable sense of the Vietnamese lacquer art won him the adoration of critics and crowds alike, was one of the pioneers.

Some of his lacquer artworks have been placed at solemn palaces living up to his reputation. The “Paradise” was put at the French Governor Palace in Hanoi before 1945. After 1945, the premise became Presidential Palace and the famous lacquer painting has been situated there up to now. The “Spring Garden of the South, Centre and North” (2m x 5,4m) was purchased by Ho Chi Minh city People’ s Committee to display at the Beauty Art Museum and this was the first time the authority spent such a record amount of money to buy a painting of Vietnamese artist: USD 100,000.

After the North was freed from French Colonialist in 1954, the senior lacquer artists went hand in hand with younger generations to bring the lacquer art up to a new grade and this was the time Vietnamese lacquer art sowed scores of successful paintings: “Bamboo”(Tran Dinh Tho), “Missing North - Western Evening” (Phan Ke An), “Reading” (Huynh Van Gam), “ Passing Monkey Bridge” (Nguyen Van Hien), “ Dawn at the grain field” (Nguyen Duc Hung), “ Happiness” (Phan Gia Giang), etc… Most of the lacquer artworks have been displayed at the Vietnam Beauty Art Museum and were printed in Vietnam Lacquer Art Selection & published in 1977.

Besides, with many expositions abroad in the years 1956, 1959, Vietnamese Lacquer Art was highly appreciated by critics and crowds as well as received good reviews international Medias.

While in the South before 1930 Vietnamese Lacquer Art was developed in Hue, Hoi An, Thu Dau Mot, Saigon Gia Dinh and then, the French opened a school in Bien Hoa in the early 20th century to train a generation of lacquer painters aiming at meeting the high demand of the French mark .


The Renovation of the Vietnamese Lacquerware Technique

However, the renovation of the lacquerware technique in Hanoi totally changed the production process of the Vietnamese lacquerware in the South particularly when the lacquer artists graduated from the Indo- china Fine Arts school in Hanoi returned and handed down the new lacquerware technique. Since then, Thu Dau Mot has been well- known with Tuong Binh Hiep lacquerware village where many lacquer artists were born, grew up and learnt this lacquer art.

After 1940, a new school of thought of southern Vietnamese Lacquer Art formed by talented Vietnamese lacquer artists in combination with energetic entrepreneurs to establish a lot of famous Vietnamese lacquerware brands. Through many years of developing and perfecting, Vietnamese lacquer artists have increasingly created a variety of lacquerware which carry typically Vietnamese styles.

Actually, Vietnamese lacquerware are present worldwide and become a highly developing business with an annual turnover growing year – on – year and exporting to Europe, America, Japan, Australia, etc… accounted for 80 % of total sales.

The Process Of Creating The Vietnamese Lacquerware

Every Vietnamese lacquerware usually goes through 20 stages not less than 100 days regardless it is a large picture or just some small lacquerware pieces such as bowls or even coasters. There are actually 3 kinds of lacquerware: Mother – of – pearl, eggshell, painting or any of the combination of these three.

First of all, however, we must select the suitable wood for every Vietnamese lacquerware: rose, cherry or walnut wood for the furniture, screens or jewelry boxes, ebony for statues; jack fruit wood for boxes, bowls, plates and plywood for paintings. The wood then will be filled with a layer of natural lacquer which gradually seeps through to a core of wood to make it harder and against any rotting by insects.

Besides, the raw lacquerware also covered with a piece of gauze to prevent any crack or curving shape. Still the raw material will bear 5 more layers of lacquer to hide the gauze and to reach the necessary thickness. However, in between each layers of lacquer, the lacquer artist must wait until the lacquer get dried and then rub it in water. The work will be repeated many times (some times up to 15 lacquer layers or more) until the lacquerware becomes totally smooth.

Lacquer – Sources, Extraction, And Mixtures

The lacquer is a resin of the lacquer tree planted mostly in the Northern Vietnamese province of Phu Tho and has its scientific name: Rhus Succedanea. First extracted from a tree, the lacquer is white, condensed like milk then turning brown in the air and gradually becoming black when dried. Once hardened the lacquer forms a lustrous durable surface that is imperious to moisture, insects, and oxidization making it ideal for preserving materials, such as wood and bamboo. From the natural lacquer, the lacquer artist will mix it with some mineral pigments to produce other kinds of lacquer: cockroach – colored lacquer, lacquer for sticking mother - of -pearl and eggshell and lacquer for covering on the top.

Mother - Of - Pearl Lacquerware

A variety of mother of pearl from the sea will be cut into different shapes with the thickness of about 2 mm each. The Vietnamese lacquerware artist then draws the designs over its surface and uses a coping saw to cut them into small pieces .

Once being inlaid, the mother of pearl design is a bit thicker than the surface of the wood. Hence, the lacquerware artist will apply a mixture of natural lacquer and plaster to build up the lacquerware surface step by step until it reaches the same level.

The lacquerware artist will use a very pointed knife to carve the details, which make the design more lively and attractive. Still each Vietnamese lacquerware will be filled with about 10 layers of lacquer and in between each layer, the lacquerware artist will wait until it is dry and do the rubbing in water. The work will finish when the lacquerware reaches the highest smoothness. Last stage but not least is the lacquerware-polishing stage.

Eggshell Lacquerware


Duck eggshell is specially applied in Vietnamese lacquerware and it is the shell of the ducks already hatched because of its thickness and whiteness. The eggshell will be stick onto the lacquerware following the ready – made design then filled with ten layers of lacquer and rubbed in water.

Duck eggshell in natural state is white then the next step, the Vietnamese lacquerware artist will color the eggshell by using the mineral pigments mixing with some chemical dyes to reach the highest smoothness, then covered with many layers of lacquer and again rubbed in water in between each layer. The final stage is lacquerware-polishing stage





Lacquerware Care

Natural beauty combined with the high durability is the main characteristics of each Vietnamese lacquerware. The lacquerware, if with proper care, will retain its beauty for many years. Although each Vietnamese lacquerware is unique, below are some general precautions to help you get the most use out of your lacquerware.


1. Keep your lacquerware out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat. Ultraviolet light and extreme heat will fade the lacquerware surface and result in tiny cracks. Once damaged, deterioration can happen and the beauty and life span of your lacquerware will be reduced.

2. Avoid using chemicals to clean your lacquerware. Instead, try to use dry or damp cloth to gently wipe away dust and moisture.

3. When you want to wash your lacquerware, use mild soap and warm water. Rinse and dry immediately after cleaning. Do not clean with hot water or try not to soak your lacquerware for too long.