Introduced into Vietnam from China, lacquer paintings are created by coating wood with several layers of resin, each of which must be sanded and allowed to dry before more colours are added. These complex and beautiful works often take months to create. In 15th-century Vietnam lacquer was used to gloss pagodas, palanquins, wood panels and other valuable objects, especially religious items. These days you needn't be royalty nor righteous to buy lacquerware at one of the many galleries in Hanoi.
Lacquer is a natural product sourced from the sap of the Vietnamese rhus tree. A slice is made into the tree's bark, which begins the flow of sap. Liquid is collected with solids; the former is skimmed off and blended with pine tar to make the lacquer used by artists. Vietnamese lacquerware is highly sought after by collectors for its beauty and durability. Over time, high-quality lacquerware ages gracefully with subtle shifts in colour. Make sure to purchase a piece of fine lacquerware before you leave Hanoi.