Vietnam lacquer painting or Sơn mài in Vietnamese  is a traditional Vietnamese form of lacquer painting created using a toxic lacquer harvested from one region of the country. It requires months of application and sanding back layers of paint to build up the image. Last year, a sơn mài painting sold at auction for $972,000. So, what makes these paintings so special? And why are they so expensive?
First used during Vietnam’s feudal era, lacquer painting has evolved over time, especially in the 1930s when artists and students at the Hanoi University Fine Arts resurrected the medium, fusing it with French techniques and positioning it as a fine art. 

Why lacquer painting get high value ? 
The technique consists of applying various layers of carefully measured colors and textures onto a black plywood board. These layers are made up of not only paint and clear lacquer, but precious metals such gold and silver. No matter the material, each layer requires drying and polishing, with specific layers polished more than others to make them more prominent. Fine sandpaper and a mix of human hair and charcoal are used to reach the desired color/layer, but the artist must keep track of each since rubbing too hard can irretrievably ruin the piece.

How lacquer painting made? 

The medium is based on a resin extracted from the cây sơn tree that inhabits the mountains of Phú Thọ Province. The resinis harvested in the same way as rubber, by making an incision and letting the sap flow. It also poses health problems, as it is a common skin irritant and a cause of contact dermatitis, as well as being potentially carcinogenic.

Artists mix natural ingredients to create colors, like eggshells to make white or cinnabar, a toxic ore, for red. In some cases, artists add leaves of silver, sometimes even gold, to create a gentle sheen. These substances can be one of the costliest parts of sơn mài painting.

While the raw materials of the painting may be more expensive than many other styles, the skill and the work of the artist are what set the final value. Usually, traditional lacquer painters, if they've understood the technique and a clear idea of their initial sketch, can be in control of 80% of their idea, 80% of their ideas. The remaining 20% is luck. Accident. Sometimes it can make the painting much better than originally intended or fail the requirements during other times. The artist must start over then. Painters must be careful to let each layer fully dry before sanding. Otherwise, colors or designs could be ruined

Between its complexity, health hazards and long production times that can reach months, Vietnamese lacquer painting is a leading contender for the country’s most impressive art form. And that is the reason why Sơn Mài Vietnamese painting gets high value. 

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