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The Sleeping Beauty: The Good Fairy's Promise

On display in:

Bakst Room

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Artist or maker

Bakst, Léon (b.1866, d.1924)

Date

1913-1922

commissioned 1913, completed 1922

Place of production

  • Paris, France

Medium

  • oil on canvas

Type of object

  • paintings

Accession number

89.1995.2

Rectangular painting, portrait orientation, depicting the second episode from the Sleeping Beauty series. The Good Fairy, unable to lift the Wicked Fairy Carabosse's curse entirely, promises that if the Princess Aurora pricks her finger, she will sleep for a hundred years and then be woken by a Prince, whom she will marry.

The scene takes place in an arched hall. The King (character 1) stands to the right, with five men carrying weapons and shields to the far right (palace guards, characters 2-5). To the left of the King, there is the Good Fairy with a trident shaped wand held aloft (character 7). Behind her are two women (characters 8 & 14). In front of the king, there is a crib with the baby, which is surmounted with a crown. Three women kneel around the crib. Two in front are benevolent fairies (characters 10 & 11). At the side, is the Queen (character 9). She stretches her right hand out towards the Good Fairy. To the left, two women stand conversing (benevolent fairies: characters 12 & 13). A woman (unidentified) stands behind them between two pillars. The Wicked Fairy turns in the arched exit and raises her index finger. She is followed by rats. A group of soldiers hold axes and spears towards her. The floor, crib and clothes are all highly patterned. The clothes are medieval and Renaissance in style. There is a tapestry of men fighting strange beasts hanging in the exit arch. On the far right, there is a monkey figure rendered on the floor in blue and red, pointing towards the crib.

Characters in Panel two:

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

2. Palace Guard: Captain Richard Pinto (Dorothy's brother)

3. Palace Guard: Sir Charles Grant (brother-in-law of Lord Dalmeny and Peggy Crewe)

4. Palace Guard: Mr Frank Goldsmith (James's friend)

5. Palace Guard: Harry, Lord Dalmeny (James's cousin, brother of Peggy Crewe)

6. Palace Guard: The Earl of Bessborough (James's and Dorothy's friend)

7. The Good Fairy: Peggy, The Marchioness of Crewe (James's cousin, sister of Lord Dalmeny)

8. A Benevolent Fairy: Germaine Halphen, Baroness Edouard de Rothschild (cousin of Noémie Halphen - the Princess and married to James's cousin)

9. The Queen: Gabrielle Beer (Nelly), Baroness Robert de Rothschild (married to James's cousin and sister of Marie Lou de Rothschild)

10. A Benevolent Fairy: Mathilde Pinto, Baroness Willy Blumenthal (Dorothy's aunt)

11. A Benevolent Fairy: Dorothy Pinto, Mrs James de Rothschild

12: A Benevolent Fairy: Catherine Cohen, Mrs Eugéne Pinto (Dorothy's mother)

13. A Benevolent Fairy: Adelheid, Baroness Edmond de Rothschild (James's mother)

14. A Benevolent Fairy: Alexandrine de Rothschild (James's sister)

Commentary

Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The Good Fairy’s promise is the second 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, had laid a curse on her: should she ever prick her finger, she would fall into a perpetual sleep. Here, the Good Fairy, unable to lift the curse entirely, promises that if the princess pricks her finger she will sleep only a hundred years, and then be awakened by the prince whom she will marry.

The Good Fairy raises her wand high above the sleeping child. Bakst created a strong and stabilising vertical axis from the tip of the wand down to the Queen’s hand, passing through the crown, cradle and baby. The tip of the wand is also the apex of a triangle that incorporates the King and his attendants on right and, on the left, soldiers brandishing their weapons at the Bad Fairy. Tiny and contorted, she wears a black version of the Good Fairy’s golden headdress. Rats follow her out of the room.

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 three for the Queen in this panel. He based the faces of most of the characters on sketches he made of his patrons, their family and friends. James de Rothschild’s wife, Dorothy, kneels behind her aunt to the left of the cradle. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon, including one of Dorothy made in 1918, when she visited Bakst to check on his progress (acc. no. 650.1996). In that year, 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) / weight (mg)

2500 approx x 1400 - sight

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. 2

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, 206, 240, fig. 216; as 'The Baptism of the Princess'.
  • 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. 56, fig. 2; pp. 66-68, figs 15, 20, 25; p. 72, fig. 28; pp. 76-81, figs. 36-45; p. 102, fig. 92; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 2.
  • Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 60-61, 94-101, ill.
  • Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 2, 192-203, 223, figs 298, 305-6; figure 306 is incorrectly captioned.
  • Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 171, ill.
  • Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; p. 31, ill.
Other details

Subject person

  • Robert Crewe-Milnes, Marquess of Crewe, Sitter, brother-in-law of Lord Dalmeny, (James's cousin)
  • Richard Pinto, Sitter, Dorothy's brother
  • Captain Charles Grant, Sitter, brother-in-law of Lord Dalmeny
  • Frank Goldsmith, Sitter, friend of James
  • Harry Primrose, Lord Dalmeny, Sitter, James's cousin
  • Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough, Sitter, James's friend
  • Peggy Crewe-Milnes, Marchioness of Crewe, Sitter, James's cousin
  • Germaine de Rothschild, Sitter, wife of James's cousin
  • Gabrielle (Nelly) de Rothschild, Sitter, wife of James's cousin
  • Mathilde Blumenthal, Sitter, Dorothy's aunt
  • Dorothy de Rothschild, Sitter
  • Catherine Pinto, Sitter, Dorothy's mother
  • Adelheid, Baroness Edmond de Rothschild, Sitter, James's mother
  • Alexandrine de Rothschild, Sitter, James's sister
Indexed terms

Person as Subject

Subjects

Genres