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The Sleeping Beauty: The Princess and the Court Fall Asleep for a Hundred Years

Artist or maker:
Bakst, Léon (b.1866, d.1924)
Date:
1913-1922
commissioned in 1913, completed in 1922
Place of production:
Paris, France
Medium:
oil on canvas
Type of object:
paintings
Accession number:
89.1995.5

Commentary

Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The fifth panel shows the Good Fairy sending the whole palace to sleep. 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 preceding panel, the Good Fairy reassures the King that his daughter will be saved after a hundred years' sleep. A shield with a knight on horseback above the room where the princess lies alludes to the future arrival of Prince Charming. Soldiers, courtiers and servants dressed in Renaissance costume fall asleep mid-action as the castle is overaken by vines.

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 examples, such as Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506), for inspiration. There is a preparatory sketch for the castle at the Harry Ransom Humanities Center, the University of Texas at Austin. Unlike in the preceding panel, here the architecture is more of a stage-set than a realistic rendering of a building. Indeed, the panel may have been inspired by a stage design for the 'The Sleeping Beauty' ballet (Israel Museum, Jerusalem).

Bakst based the faces of most of the characters on sketches he made of his patrons, their family and friends. The sleeping cook with his eyes open and basket spilling food is Gaston Wormser, the secretary of James's father. Bakst may have depicted him in this role to get him back for his constant nagging to finish the commission. The Alsatian dog belonged to James's friend. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon. In 1918, 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 1700
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. 5
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, 211, 240, fig. 220; as 'The Spell of the Hundred Years' Sleep'.
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. 59, fig. 5; p. 108, fig. 106; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 5.
Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 72-73, 108-109, ill.
Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 192-203, 223, figs 301, 307; as 'The Hundred Years' Sleep'; fig. 307 incorrectly captioned as 'Muffin' (actually appears in Panel 7).
Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 175, ill.
Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; p. 33, ill.

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