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East Meets West - The Influence of Lacquerware
Lacquer, a luxury item from China and Japan strongly influenced art produced both in Mexico and in New England. In Asia, lacquer, the sap of the lac tree, is purified, then applied to a wooden surface. Under the appropriate conditions, it dries very hard and has a glossy finish as shiny as porcelain. Artists in Mexico and in the British colonies copied this technique in their work.


Coffer Franz Mayer Collection Lacquered, Engraved wood with silver trim 18th Century Olinala, Guerrero
High Chest of Drawers Bayou Bend Collection Soft maple, eastern white pine and secondary woods. 1730 - 1760 Boston
Franz Mayer Collection
High Chest of Drawers
Bayou Bend Collection

Lacquered, engraved wood with silver trim
18th century
Olinalá, Guerrero

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(46K, 17 sec on 28K)


Soft Maple, eastern white pine and secondary woods

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(77K, 28sec on 28K)

This coffer is decorated all over with engraved black patterns against the bright red or vermilion background. Some are animal forms, others are rippling, scroll-like leaf patterns. The keyhole and handles are silver.


This magnificent high chest is decorated with scenes of landscapes with pagodas, real and imaginary animals, plants and flowers. European motifs include the large shells, the columns, and the angel-like figures at the top.


In Mexico, before the Spanish Conquest, artists in the modern state of Michoacan produced lacquer ware for their rulers. Goods imported from China reinforced and influenced this tradition.

Artists in the colonies read English treatises about a technique called "japanning" that imitated lacquer. They combined bright red and black paints to imitate tortoiseshell, then applied clear resins and more paint to create a lustrous surface. Here, the cast raised figures were decorated with paint and with gold and silver leaf and powders.


This small coffer with a rounded lid was used to store valuables.

A high chest of drawers, a furniture form more popular in the colonies than in England, was used to store clothes.


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