lacquer

lacquer, solution of film-forming materials, natural or synthetic, usually applied as an ornamental or protective coating. Quick-drying synthetic lacquers are used to coat automobiles, furniture, textiles, paper, and metalware. The lacquer formula may be varied to impart durability, hardness, gloss, or imperviousness to water. Nitrocellulose (pyroxylin) lacquers are the most widely employed. Slower-drying natural lacquers contain oleoresins obtained from the juice of trees, especially of Rhus vernicifera, a sumac of SE Asia. Lacquer work was one of the earliest industrial arts of Asia. It was highly developed in India; the Chinese inlaid lacquer work with ivory, jade, coral, or abalone and were unrivaled in making articles carved from it. The art spread to Korea, then to Japan, where it took new forms, notably gold lacquer work. Fine Asian ware may have more than 40 coats, each being dried and smoothed with a whetstone before application of the next. The ware may be decorated in color, gold, or silver and enhanced by modeled reliefs, engraving, or carving. Buddhist monasteries encouraged the art and now preserve some of the oldest pieces extant; in the temple of Horyu-ji, near Nara, Japan, is a Chinese-made sword scabbard of the 8th cent. Notable lacquer artists include Ogata Korin (17th cent.) and Shibata Yeshin (19th cent.). In the 17th cent., Western European imitations were popularized as japanning and carried to great perfection in France in the vernis Martin developed by the Martin brothers under Louis XV. Commercial production of lacquer work in the 19th cent. resulted in a decline in quality.

See Lacquer: An International History and Illustrated Survey (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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