Relevant categories: Cabinets and Chests
(Above photo - Vernis Martin painted furniture and French antiques )
Vernis Martin is a lacquer style developed in the 18th century France by the Martin brothers Etienne-Simon, Guillaume, Julien, and Robert. The style was used to decorate bride fans, snuffboxes, and furniture. In 1710, Guillaume, the eldest, had teamed up with his brothers to open a lacquer studio in Paris.
During that time, a lot of items were being imported from China and Japan. The imported pieces had unique lacquer, which the Martin brothers copied and perfected. Vernis Martin (the new lacquer technique) was less costly whether decoration of pieces of furniture, as well as lacquer panels. Compared to imported items from the Far East, the brothers came up with a less brittle finish. Somehow, the Martins has developed a trade secret that enabled them to produce more elastic lacquer.
(Above photo - Pair Vernis Martin painted cabinets or commodes )
Their work soon grew in popularity and could even be used in carved pieces of furniture. Vernis Martin had a reddish warm tone, given that it included bronze as well as gold powder. The lacquer was applied as a coating on green underpainting after which a gold leaf and red coat were applied. To this day, the secret of the lacquer is yet to be discovered. However, some say that it was done by heating copal and oil before adding Venetian turpentine. Copal is a resin that was sourced from an exotic tree from South America.
Vernis Martin was developed as an answer to the European fascination with items from the orient. The Martin brothers developed a cheaper imitation of Chinese lacquer on items targeting Europeans. Some of the items on which they applied the decorations include coaches, fans, cabinets, chairs, and panels. Thanks to their work, they made it cheaper for Europeans to acquire East Asian lacquer, albeit imitations.
(Above photo - French Painted Empire Cabinet Chest Credenza Vernis Martin )
As their popularity grew, the brothers expanded their business by opening two more factories in Paris. In 1748, their business was known by the single name: Manufacture Nationale. However, they never used their names or identities in their pieces of art. Given the wide application of their lacquer, the work of the Martins permeated nearly all classes of French society. Robert is thought to be the one who made the greatest contribution to producing great artistic work. His son Jean Alexandre picked up the trade but failed to impress as far as producing great art was concerned.
Another Martin family invention was the papier-mache snuffbox, which was highly lacquered. Despite being cheap to produce, the boxes were light, giving them immediate popularity. They were good enough to compete with gold-plated or golden snuffboxes. Martin’s lacquer art was greatly influenced by oil paintings and art by the goldsmiths.
With time, the Martins started to make original lacquer and not one with East Asian influence. Slowly but surely, they invented the French tradition of decorative arts and furniture. Soon, the rest of Europe began to decorate their furniture with lacquer. When the French revolution happened, it extinguished any taste that people had in lacquer. Today, lacquer is produced in industries and is hardly considered an art form.
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