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The Sleeping Beauty: The Bad Fairy Visits the Christening

On display in:

Bakst Room

Order image © All images subject to copyright

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

89.1995.1

Rectangular painting, portrait orientation, depicting episode one from the Sleeping Beauty series, seven in all. The Bad fairy, Carabosse, furious at not being invited to the Christening of the baby Princess Aurora, vows that should the Princess ever prick her finger, she will fall asleep forever.

The Bad Fairy, on the left, is surrounded by rats, some of which approach the highly decorated crib on the right. The Fairy wears a brown mottled dress and a spiny fin-like headdress. Two women, representing Good Fairies, recoil and try to protect the newborn child either side of the crib. The women are Mathilde Blumenthal on the left and the Countess of Bessborough on the right. They wear blue patterned dresses and tall hats. One carries a whisk.

Behind the crib, the King, the Marquess of Crewe, sits on an arched throne, his head resting on his right hand. The Queen, La Baronne Robert de Rothschild pleads with the Fairy, her hand on her breast. She wears a purple and gold floral dress. Three men kneel to the right. They wear burgher dress. The middle one is Bakst with a red hat. To the left is Henri Duport, to the right is Frederick Pratt. Behind is Catherine Pinto wearing a white wimple and black dress. Two coloured servants wearing tall feather headdresses stand behind.

The scene takes place in a marble hall with a patterned floor, before a large arch to the left. The arch has an entrance way made of three arches. The columns are of green marble with green and white foliate capitals and pelicans in the spandrels. Above the three arches, there is a large green marble circle in a rounded pediment. There is a green and white patterned brocade curtain hung across the arches. A black servant dressed in a turban and robes stands before the curtain in the centre. The Good Fairy peeks from behind the curtain on the right. Above the king's throne is a crowned shield with a knight on horseback representing Prince Charming.

Characters in the Panel:

1. The Countess of Bessborough (Roberte), (friend of James and Dorothy)

2. The Marquess of Crewe, (brother-in-law of Lord Dalmeny, James's cousin)

3. Léon Bakst (the artist)

4. La Baronne Robert de Rothschild (Nelly) (wife of James's cousin)

5. Henri Duport (unknown)

6. Frederick Charles Pratt (James's trainer of racehorses)

7. Mrs Eugéne Pinto (Catherine) (Dorothy's mother)

Commentary

Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The Bad Fairy’s curse is the first 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, lays a curse on her: should she ever prick her finger, she would fall into a perpetual sleep. The Bad Fairy stabs her twisted wand towards the sleeping child, desperately protected by one of the ladies-in-waiting. Bakst used a strong counter diagonal movement to group the royal family and attendents recoiling from the Fairy and her rats. Above the King's throne, the horse and knight alludes to the princess's rescue at the end of the story.

The original story by Charles Perrault makes no mention of the rats. Bakst drew on later version of the story which describe them pulling the Bad Fairy's chariot. Bakst used a similar costume for the character of the Bad Fairy in his ballet designs; the setting of this panel is also reminiscent of his stage sets. James de Rothschild's sister, Alexandrine, commented on the panel in 1921 after visiting Bakst's studio: 'the small cradle is angelic. It seems to be in papier mâché and decorated with small characters, in the style of Mantegna. At the base of the cradle is a funny type of parrot, maybe to amuse the child.'

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 one for the kneeling lady on the right in this panel. He based the faces of most of the characters on sketches he made of his patrons, their family and friends. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon, including one of Frederick Pratt, James's racehorse trainer, made in 1921 (acc. no. 56.1996), depicted in black on the far right. In 1918, James had suggested using family portraits in response to Bakst's complaints about the shortage of models in Paris during the war. Bakst included himself in this panel. He wears a red turban, reminiscent of Italian Renaissance artists. 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) / weight (mg)

2371 x 1890

Signature & date

signed and dated, lower left: BaKST / 1922

Inscriptions

LORD ROTHSCHILD
Inscription
[on stretcher cross bar]

Labels

11636
Label
[handwritten in black ballpoint pen on stretcher cross bar]

1382/5
Label
[handwritten in black ballpoint pen on stretcher cross bar]

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. 1
  • 'Designing Dreams - A Celebration of Leon Bakst', New National Museum of Monaco, 23 October 2016 - 15 January 2017.

Collection

  • Rothschild Foundation, Waddesdon
  • 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, 209, 240, fig. 219; as 'Carabosse's Curse'.
  • 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. 55, fig. 1; p. 65, fig. 14; pp. 73-74, figs 30-31; p. 102, fig. 91; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 1.
  • Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 56-57, 89-94, ill.
  • Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 192-203, 223, fig. 297; as 'The Curse of Carabosse'.
  • Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 170, ill.
  • Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; pp. 27, ill.
Other details

Subject person

  • Roberte, Countess of Bessborough, Sitter, friend of James and Dorothy
  • Robert Crewe-Milnes, Marquess of Crewe, Sitter, brother-in-law of Lord Dalmeny, James's cousin
  • Léon Bakst, Sitter, artist
  • Gabrielle (Nelly) de Rothschild, Sitter, wife of James's cousin
  • Henri Duport, Sitter, unknown
  • Frederick Pratt, Sitter, James's trainer of racehorses
  • Catherine Pinto, Sitter, Dorothy's mother