Who and why called them “cheap” is not known. Maybe because the pictures were cut out on lime boards (they called the bast then), maybe because they were sold in bast boxes ofeni-shipwrights, or, according to Moscow legend, everything went from Lubyanka, the street where making popular prints.
Humorous folk pictures sold at fairs as early as the 17th century, until the beginning of the 20th, were considered the most popular art form in Russia, although the attitude towards them was not serious, since in the higher strata of society they categorically refused to recognize as art what the common people created, self-taught , often on gray paper, to the joy of the peasant people. Of course, few people cared about the careful preservation of cheap prints, because at that time it had never occurred to anyone that the pictures that have reached our days will become a true asset, a true masterpiece of Russian folk painting, which embodied not only folk humor and history of ancient Russia, but also the natural talent of Russian artists, the origins of living caricature and colorful literary illustrativeness.
Splint is an engraving or print made on paper from a wooden flare. Initially, the pictures were black and white and served to decorate the royal chambers and boyars’ mansions, but later their production became more widespread and already colored. Black and white prints were painted with the hare’s feet of a woman near Moscow and Vladimir. Often such cheap popular pictures looked like a modern coloring of a small child, inept, hasty, illogical in color. However, among them there are a lot of pictures that scientists consider particularly valuable, talking about the innate sense of color of artists, which allowed them to create completely unexpected, fresh combinations that are unacceptable with a thorough, detailed coloring, and therefore unique.
The theme of folk pictures is very diverse: it covers religious and moralizing themes, folk epos and fairy tales, historical and medical, necessarily accompanied by edifying or humorous text, telling about the character and life of that time, containing folk wisdom, humor, and sometimes masterfully disguised cruel political satire.
Over time, the lubka technique also changed. In the 19th century, drawing began to be done not on wood, but on metal, which allowed masters to create more elegant works. The color spectrum of popular prints has also changed, becoming even brighter and richer, often turning into a fantastic, unexpected riot of color. For a long time, popular prints were the spiritual food of simple working people, a source of knowledge and news, as there were very few newspapers, and the popular prints were popular, cheap, and distributed throughout the country, overcoming incredible distances. By the end of the century, cheap popular art had exhausted itself – new pictures made at factories appeared.
Russian splint is the creation of nameless folk artists. Rapidly evolving under the stigma of lack of talent and bad taste, marked by a highly educated part of Russian society, today it is recognized as a special value, is the subject of collecting and careful study of many scientists not only in Russia but also in foreign countries, occupying a worthy place on the walls of art museums alongside the works of the greatest masters of the past.