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The Sleeping Beauty: The Good Fairy's Promise

Artist or maker:
Bakst, Léon (b.1866, d.1924)
Date:
1913-1922
commissioned 1913, completed 1922
Place of production:
Paris, France
Medium:
oil on canvas
Type of object:
paintings
Accession number:
89.1995.2

Commentary

Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The Good Fairy’s promise is the second in the series. The artist, Bakst, was born in Russia and began his career as a painter and illustrator. He achieved his greatest success in the theatre, notably with his designs for the Ballets Russes, which he helped to found.

In the first panel, the Bad Fairy, angry at not being invited to the baptism of the infant Princess, had laid a curse on her: should she ever prick her finger, she would fall into a perpetual sleep. Here, the Good Fairy, unable to lift the curse entirely, promises that if the princess pricks her finger she will sleep only a hundred years, and then be awakened by the prince whom she will marry.

The Good Fairy raises her wand high above the sleeping child. Bakst created a strong and stabilising vertical axis from the tip of the wand down to the Queen’s hand, passing through the crown, cradle and baby. The tip of the wand is also the apex of a triangle that incorporates the King and his attendants on right and, on the left, soldiers brandishing their weapons at the Bad Fairy. Tiny and contorted, she wears a black version of the Good Fairy’s golden headdress. Rats follow her out of the room.

In 1890, Bakst had seen the dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s first production of the ballet Sleeping Beauty in Saint Petersburg. He said that this experience determined his career, but it was not until 1913 that he had the chance to explore the subject in a sustained way. Bakst’s paintings of the fairy tale were commissioned in 1913 by the newly married James de Rothschild to decorate the drawing room of his London house, which overlooked Hyde Park. The choice of subject was left to the artist, who completed the seven panels in 1922, delayed by ill health, other work and the First World War. In 1923 it was decided to hang the panels in the dining room, but it is not known whether they were ever installed. They were finally hung in the dining room of James's and Dorothy's next house, at 23 St James's Place. They were installed in the Bakst Room at Waddesdon in 1995.

Bakst had not undertaken such monumental painting on this scale before, although he had previously designed several murals. He looked to Italian Renaissance artists, such as Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506), for inspiration. Several rare nude studies exist at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, including three for the Queen in this panel. He based the faces of most of the characters on sketches he made of his patrons, their family and friends. James de Rothschild’s wife, Dorothy, kneels behind her aunt to the left of the cradle. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon, including one of Dorothy made in 1918, when she visited Bakst to check on his progress (acc. no. 650.1996). In that year, James had suggested using portraits in response to Bakst's complaints about the shortage of models in Paris during the war. Nearing the end of his commission, in 1921, Bakst stated that he wanted to do more murals and portraits as they were not so fleeting as theatre designs. Whilst he went on to make portraits, he never painted such murals again.

Juliet Carey and Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
2500 approx x 1400 - sight
Signature & date:
signed and dated, lower right: BaKST / 1922

History

Provenance:
Commissioned by James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957) for 34 Park Street, London in 1913; installed at 23 St James's Place after 1930; bequeathed by James upon trust for his wife Dorothy de Rothschild (b.1895, d.1988) and on her death to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; purchased by a Rothschild Family Trust in 1990.
Exhibition history:
'Léon Bakst: The Sleeping Beauty', Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, 9 November 1992 - 9 January 1993, no. 2
Collection:
Waddesdon (Rothschild Foundation)
On loan since 1995

Bibliography

Bibliography

Alexander Woollcott, Second Thoughts on First Nights, New York Times, 13 February 1921; p. 89; Bakst's refutation of being blind with description of paintings.
Leon Bakst, New York Times, 29 November 1922; p. 16; report on Bakst's visit to USA with description of paintings.
Bakst: An Exhibition at The Fine Art Society Limited; 3 December 1973 - 4 January 1974; London; Fine Art Society; 1973; nos 70-71; study for the Baptism and Princess at the Spinning Wheel.
Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst; London; Academy Editions; 1973; pp. 189, 206, 240, fig. 216; as 'The Baptism of the Princess'.
Haviva Peled-Carmeli, Doron J Lurie; Léon Bakst: The Sleeping Beauty; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 9 November 1992 - 9 January 1993; Tel Aviv; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; 1992; p. 56, fig. 2; pp. 66-68, figs 15, 20, 25; p. 72, fig. 28; pp. 76-81, figs. 36-45; p. 102, fig. 92; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 2.
Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 60-61, 94-101, ill.
Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 2, 192-203, 223, figs 298, 305-6; figure 306 is incorrectly captioned.
Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 171, ill.
Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; p. 31, ill.

Indexed terms

People as subject
Crewe, Robert Crewe-Milnes, Marquess of (b.1858, d.1945)
Crewe, Peggy Crewe-Milnes, Marchioness of (b.1881, d.1967)
Grant, Captain Charles (b.1877, d.1950)
Goldsmith, Francis Benedict Hyam (b.1878, d.1967)
Dalmeny, Harry Primrose, Lord (b.1882, d.1974)
Rothschild, Germaine de (b.1884, d.1975)
Rothschild, Dorothy de (b.1895, d.1988)
Rothschild, Alexandrine de (b.1884, d.1965)
Pinto, Richard (b.1892, d.1969)
Blumenthal, Mathilde (b.1862, d.1934)
Pinto, Catherine (b.1872, d.1939)
Rothschild, Adelheid, Baroness Edmond de (b.1853, d.1935)
Bessborough, Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl of (b.1880, d.1956)
Rothschild, Gabrielle (Nelly) de (b.1886, d.1945)
Research keywords
Family
Social Networks
Historicism
Magic
Renaissance Culture
Theatre Culture
Subjects
Portraits/Family
Portraits/Group
Portraits/Male
Portraits/Female
Figures/Female
Figures/Group
Figures/Male
Works of Art, Literature & Music/Characters - Generic/Fairy
Works of Art, Literature & Music/Characters - Other/Sleeping Beauty
Work & Occupations/Governance & Public Administration/Monarchs
Work & Occupations/Maritime & Military/Soldier
Objects/Armour & Weaponry/Axe
Objects/Armour & Weaponry/Spear
Objects/Armour & Weaponry/Shield
Architecture/Buildings/Domestic
Interiors/Domestic
Objects/Visual Arts/Tapestry
Objects/Religious & Ceremonial/Crown
Objects/Furnishings/Bed or Cot
Everyday Life/Sleeping
Figures/Child
Objects/Religious & Ceremonial/Wand
Animals/Mammals/Rat
Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Hat
Objects/Theatrical Items/Performance Costume
Works of Art, Literature & Music/Characters - Other/Sleeping Beauty
Work & Occupations/Governance & Public Administration/Courtier
Decorative Motifs & Patterns/Geometric Patterns
Decorative Motifs & Patterns/Flower Motifs
Genres
Fairy Tale
Portraiture