The Tale of Tsar Saltan by Ivan Bilibin. A beautifully painted 10-piece doll from Russia from the mid-1990's. This superb set was done during the "Golden Age" of Russian dolls, when the doors and windows of glasnost and perestroika began to open, though long before commercial languor began setting in. All of the paintings were done by hand. 8" down to teeny tiny. Fully hand painted and in excellent condition. Signed and dated by the artist on the first doll. 1 only. Due to the complexity and detail of each painting, the photos display each doll from both the front and the back.
Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942) is a favorite of connoisseurs of Russian art and illustration. Inspired by Slavic folklore, Bilibin was also a stage designer who participated in the Mir Iskusstva movement and contributed as well to the Ballets Russes (for example, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel"). Bilibin studied under Ilya Repin in St. Petersburg and 1902-1904 Bilibin traveled to the Russian North, where he gained artistic inspiration from their traditional wooden architecture. He truly gained fame when his illustrations of Russian fairy tales were published. In 1904, Bilibin illustrated Pushkin's Tale of Tsar Saltan.
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.