Cat Ensemble. A scarce nesting doll from Argentina. A most unusual cat matryoshka from an unusual matryoshka workshop center. A close study of each piece reveals an offbeat thematic layout. The head (1st) cat is sharpening its claws with a hatchet, the second plays a button accordion, the third cat holds a cross-cut saw, the fourth cradles a mandolin, the fifth holds a scythe and the final, tiny piece wields a tiny baton, probably keeping the concert altogether. What an imagination! 6 nest, 3½" down to tiny. 1 only.
This nesting doll has an unusual history. An enterprising group of Russians, displaced by World War II, settled in Argentina after the war. One family, keepers of the flame at the time, created a modest workshop and began making a limited number of handicrafts, including matryoshkas consisting of 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 pieces. These sets were like miniature jewels, made from indigenous birch-like wood and nicely decorated and painted. As quickly as these dolls came to the marketplace, they disappeared.
Refer to Collector's Guide to Nesting Dolls by Michele Lefkovitz, pg 150, 153-54 for the more common dolls from Argentina.
The Tale of Tsar Saltan is a poem by Alexander Pushkin written in 1831. Its full title is "The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan". The poem opens with Tsar Saltan overhearing three sisters making future plans. The youngest is chosen by Tsar Saltan to be his wife, and the other two sisters he employs as royal cook and royal weaver. They are envious, of course, and when the Tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Prince Gvidon. While the Tsar is away at war, the sisters scheme to have her and her child sealed up in a barrel and cast into the sea. The boy quickly grows older while in the barrel, which eventually washes up on the shore of a remote island, Buyan. Prince Gvidon goes hunting and ends up saving an enchanted swan from a kite (a type of hawk). The swan is an enchanted princess and the kite is an evil magician. The swan forms a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, but he is homesick, and the swan turns him into a gnat (in some versions he is a bumblebee). In this guise, he returns to visit Tsar Saltan's court, where he bites his aunt's eye and flees. Back home, the enchanted swan shows Gvidon a magical squirrel, which lives off of golden nutshells and emerald kernels. Gvidon builds the squirrel a crystal house of which Tsar Saltan hears and is intrigued. But the Tsaritsa's sisters dissuade Saltan and tell him of the marvel of the 33 bogatyrs (knights) and their master, Chernomor, who rises from the sea. These bogatyrs are the enchanted swan's brothers. The swan transforms Gvidon into a fly, who follows them all back to Tsar Saltan's court, where he stings the eye of his other aunt. The aunts scheme one last time by describing to Tsar Saltan a miraculous princess with a star above her head, but this princess is revealed as the Swan Princess. Gvidon and the Princess marry, Tsar Saltan visits them, and is delighted and overjoyed in the final outcome.