Zhostovo (pronouced jhos-tovo) originated in a village of the same name located in the Mytishchi District of the Moscow Region. It is one of the most respected centers of Russian folk art and is noted for it's lacquered trays on which clear, bright bouquets of flowers literally dance on a shining black background.

Among all the traditional folk art known today, the art of Zhostovo is the most beautiful and fascinating as it tends more towards realistic floral painting. The colours used in Zhostovo are brilliant and the strokework is intricate.

Folk Art - Zhostovo - Traditional White Roses

Traditional white Zhostovo rose painted in the traditional way using acrylics on a bisque plate based on a Slava Letkov design. Slava is one of the seven master zhostovo artists in the world today.

Features of Zhostovo

Landscapes and still life were the most popular subjects of Zhostovo painting and fairy-tale characters and Russian troika depictions were also often represented.

But the main motive of the art of Zhostovo has always been a bunch of flowers in the centre of the tray. These realistic and elegant flowers are united into bouquets, wreaths or garlands, and traditionally painted on a black or other dark coloured background. Sometimes the backgrounds are faux finished to imitate leather or mother of pearl. Light backgrounds reminiscent of Chippendale trays - definitely of French influence - are also sometimes used.

A brilliant zhostovo bouquet with a very obvious central light source which was designed and painted freehand in acrylics for my friend Di Singleton's book, Decorative Painting Techniques

The unifying highlight strokes of Zhostovo and the "wild grass" that fill the trays tie the design together and emphasise the unique and characteristic central light source of this folk art. Zhostovo trays are also always accompanied by fine linework in an ornate gold border.

A History of Zhostovo

The art of Zhostovo began in the early 19th century, when craftsmen began making various items of lacquered papier mache. They opened their first workshop in 1825, producing boxes, cases, snuff boxes and other articles. Trade in the trays took place throughout the 19th century until a slump in the early 1900's but was revived 25 years later with the birth of the Zhostovo tray-painting factory.

The factory employed a workforce and Zhostovo trays were painted like an assembly line - with a difference - no two trays were the same. Each was a unique and brilliant work of art. Zhostovo was painted entirely in oils and despite advancements in materials available by the 20th century, the Zhostovo technique remain preserved.

Zhostovo painting is always traditionally created as a brilliant masterpiece, and as such, repetition and standardization are out of the question. The zhostovo artists painted their design freehand, turning the trays often to pull all the strokes towards them.

A master painter paints the design. After under-painting and initial shadows, the trays are baked in a special oven and left overnight. The next day the shadows are intensified and highlights added. Details like fine lines to emphasise highlights and wild grass to provide life and movement to the design are added. The trays then go to an apprentice who effortlessly paints the ornate borders. The tray is finished with highly-glazed lacquer.

Master painters of the past have been relied upon to pass on their knowledge. Today's Zhostovo masters, of whom there are only seven in the entire world, are artists from a generation of family dynasties. On the 6th of November 1993, the Zhostovo Folk Craft was included into the State index of the most valuable objects of culture of The Russian Federation by Presidential Decree. The work of master Zhostovo artists is on display at various exhibitions and museums not only in Russia, but also in many other countries of the world.

Zhostovo today

Zhostovo traditions have been kept alive by modern day decorative artists who study the traditional methods and investigate new materials and mediums available. Through improvisation and individual talent, they have been able to produce their own brilliant pieces of zhostovo and pass on the knowledge to others.

Zhostovo is commonly painted today using the filbert brush. Mediums such as blending gel, clear glaze and retarder are used to allow acrylic paints to emulate the properties of oil paints originally used to paint zhostovo.

An example of Zhostovo painted in the contemporary technique developed by Heather Redick , CDA. Blending gel is employed to imitate the properties of oil paint and the filbert brush replaces the traditional round sable.


There are many other ways of painting Zhostovo - this advanced class project below is an example of one. Clear glaze medium and acrylic paints were used to paint this vibrant zhostovo table. The reds and crimsons of the folk-style roses painted here were layered using clear glaze medium to achieve an almost luminous "light-from-within" look. A similar effect was achieved with the grapes.

Zhostovo - Russian inspired table

From a design point of view, this zhostovo project also represents a departure from the traditional central bouquet. Nonetheless it remains brilliant, colourful and rich on a traditional black background.


Books to help you

Decorative Painting Zhostovo Style
Heather Redick

Russian Folk Art Painting
Priscilla Hauser, Boris Grafov

Priscilla Paints Zhostovo Florals, Book 1
Priscilla Hauser

Priscilla Paints Zhostovo Florals, Book 2
Priscilla Hauser


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