Three Maidens by the Window (Три Девицы Под Окном). Mstera, no date (circa late 1960's or early 1970's). Initials of the artist. The materials for painting are egg tempera paints, lacquer, papier-mache and metallic paints. The free-hand gold border is very intricate. Good condition. 6¾" x 5⅜" x 1½". 1 only.
There are many rewarding details in this painting, starting with the three distaffs on the large elegant bench, the very large curtained window which opens up to a courtyard with a man and horse pulling a sleigh over snow and the Kremlin towers of the Tsar's palace. The youngest sister stands on a fine carpet and the wallpaper is decorated with diamonds and cockerels. The colors of the sarafans are rich and overall the artist's color palette is saturated. The egg tempera paints are unforgiving and the lines are finely drawn.
Note: this is an older box with some age-related wear. Black lacquer exterior, red interior. Condition of box: no paint loss, no chips or construction deformations observed. There is soft bubbling on three sides of the box which is common for lacquer boxes from this time, due to the use of dammar resin varnish during the making of the papier-mache box. The painting is near fine and crackle-free. The price for this box reflects the condition.
"The Tale of Tsar Saltan" is a poem written by Alexander Pushkin 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. This is the scene which is depicted on the box. The tale further continues. The two sisters are envious, of course. The Tsaritsa soon gives birth to a son who is named Gvidon. While the Tsar is away at war, the two sisters scheme to have their sister and her child sealed up in a barrel and cast into the sea. The young prince grows older while in the barrel, that eventually washes up on the shore of a remote island, Buyan. Prince Gvidon begins hunting and saves an enchanted swan from a kite (a type of hawk). The swan turns out to be an enchanted princess and the kite is an evil magician in disguise. The swan creates a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, but he becomes homesick, so 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 becomes intrigued. But the Tsaritsa's sisters dissuade Tsar 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, the Tsar Saltan visits them often, and they live happily ever after.
Mstera, or Mstyora (Мстёра) miniatures are different from Palekh and Kholui miniatures, though, on first glance, they all can seem the same. Generally, Mstera painters chose a solid color background for their work, and seldom black, which is prefered in Palekh. The village of Mstera is located in the center of the Vladimir-Suzdal province on two rivers. The landscape of the village is reflected in the fields and foliage of many Mstera boxes. The first mention of Mstera goes back to 1609, whose artists excelled in embroidery, silver and copper metalwork and icons and frescoes. By the end of the 19th century, icon painting was first and foremost in Mstera (the name of the village derives from Masters). An artel of "Old Russian Painting" was organized in Mstera in 1923. However, since icons were no longer painted due to repression of the church by the government, the artists mastered painting on papier-mache boxes, which are more durable than wood. Genuine Mstera miniatures take a long time to make, as the work is piecemeal. The result is a work of art. Linseed oil, aka flaxseed oil, is used in the production of the boxes, which are lacquered and polished at least seven times. In 1932 the artel was transformed into the "Proletarian Art" factory. As of 2017, there were only about three dozen artists left in Mstera, indicating the serious threat of extinction for this traditional art.