Lacquer – for most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of this material is most likely the nearest DIY store. The type of lacquer that was used to create the objects in the Museum of Lacquer Art, however, has been used in China for several thousand years. This lacquer is the basis for artifacts of mesmerizing beauty that bear witness to remarkable craftsman’s skill. At the same time, it is the source of inspiration of our modern industrial goods.

This lacquer is extracted from the lacquer tree, an unremarkable deciduous tree related to the ash tree, which is native to Asia. The resin is harvested by cutting a notch into the bark with sharp-edged tools that have hardly changed to this day. The knives applied in this process have U-shaped blades that are used to carve broad, but rather shallow, grooves into the bark. The milky-white lacquer sap that oozes out of the tree is scraped into the receptacle with a metal spatula.

Only around 200 g of raw lacquer per tree can be harvested using this method. What is more, each tree can be tapped only once. Then it is time to wait until the new shoot that grows from the root of a felled lacquer tree has reached the right harvesting age of ten to twelve years. A very costly and time-consuming process indeed.

The milky-white lacquer sap is filtered, heated and stirred for many hours to extract the water from it and to blend the components evenly. The lacquer refined in this way adheres perfectly and is easy to tint.

It is traditionally tinted red or black, not least because raw lacquer is so toxic that few pigments can persist in it. The natural color of dried lacquer is a dark brown that results from its reaction with the oxygen in the air as it cures; in this state, it is not opaque, however, but rather a transparent brown that reveals the materials that lie beneath it.

Our collections