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The Sleeping Beauty: The Aged King Pleads with the Good Fairy

On display in:

Bakst Room

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker

Bakst, Léon (b.1866, d.1924)



commissioned in 1913, completed in 1922

Place of production

  • Paris, France


  • oil on canvas

Type of object

  • paintings

Accession number


Rectangular painting, portrait orientation, depicting episode four from the Sleeping Beauty series. The aged King, surrounded by his Court, pleads with the Good Fairy to reassure him about the fate of his daughter. The Good Fairy tells a monkey to show the King the medallion portrait of the Prince whose kiss will awaken the Princess.

In the mid-ground, there is a bridge from a fortress over a dark space. The Good Fairy (character 1), dressed as in panel 2, alights from an elaborate shell-encrusted carriage on the right of the bridge. She looks down to a monkey dressed in a tall hat with a feather, a green jacket and a sword in a scabbard shaped like a bird's head. The monkey presents a medallion (character 3) to the King who kneels to the left, imploring the Good Fairy with arms outstretched. He has a long white beard. Two black courtiers hold his ermine-lined blue robe decorated with crowns. Behind him there are seven people dressed in patterned costumes and turbans, from left to right: characters 8, 7, 6, 4, 2, 5, and 13. In the foreground there is a walkway beneath the bridge with, from left to right, characters 12, 11 and 10, a black man dressed in a turban and a knight in full plate armour with visor raised blowing a trumpet. A small monkey climbs up a gutter on the walkway to the bridge. Behind and above the carriage fly two large diaphanous dragons: they pull the carriage. Three ravens fly round a pennant on top of the carriage. At upper left, there is a window in the fortress tower. Two people look out, including character 9. There is another window at centre to upper right. Further free-standing turrets surmounted with flags appear on the upper right. On the bridge, there is a shield with a knight riding a horse, as in panel 1

Characters in Panel 4:

1. The Good Fairy: Marchioness of Crewe

2. A Courtier: Mr Eugene Pinto

3. Portrait Medallion of James de Rothschild

4. A Benevolent Fairy: Alexandrine de Rothschild

5. A Courtier: The Hon. Frederick Cripps

6. Baron Maurice de Rothschild

7. A Courtier: Baron de Brimont

8. A Courtier: Baron Edmond de Rothschild

9. A Lady in Waiting: Eva Cahen

10. A Lady in Waiting: Mrs Leopold de Rothschild

11. A Lady in Waiting: Mrs Lionel de Rothschild

12: A Courtier: Baron Robert de Rothschild

13: A Courtier: Baron Edouard de Rothschild


Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The King, now an old man, pleads with the Good Fairy for his daughter's fate in the fourth of 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 preceding panel, the Princess pricks her finger fulfilling the curse of the Bad Fairy. Here, the Good Fairy arrives to reassure her father of her future: the attendant monkey hands the King a medal bearing the face of Prince Charming. The same shield which appears in the second scene where the Good Fairy mitigates the curse appears on the bridge. Swirling illuminated dragons and a shell-encrusted coach lend a grand theatricality to the Fairy's entrance, witnessed by the court.

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 examples, such as Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506), for inspiration. Bakst based the faces of most of the characters on sketches he made of his patrons, their family and friends. The profile of Prince Charming in the medal is that of James himself. Members of James's and Dorothy's families crowd behind the King including James's brother Maurice, wearing a turban and fur-collared cloak to connote high rank. James's racing friend Freddy Cripps is depicted in blue. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon, including one of 1922 of James's sister, Alexandrine, looking out as she does from the bridge here (acc. no. 51.1996). In 1918, 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

Signature & date

signed and dated, lower right, partially obscured under frame: BaKST / 1922



  • 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. 4


  • Rothschild Foundation, Waddesdon
  • On loan since 1995


  • 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, 212, 240, fig. 221.
  • 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. 58, fig. 4; p. 83-85, figs 49-54; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 4.
  • Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 68-69, 102-107, ill.
  • Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 192-203, 223, fig. 300.
  • Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 172, ill.
  • Élizabeth Antébi; Edmond de Rothschild; L'homme qui racheta la Terre sainte; France; Editions de Rocher; January 2003; p. 261, ill.
  • Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; p. 32, ill.
Other details

Subject person

  • Peggy Crewe-Milnes, Marchioness of Crewe, Sitter, James's cousin
  • Eugene Pinto, Sitter, Dorothy's father
  • James de Rothschild, Sitter
  • Alexandrine de Rothschild, Sitter, James's sister
  • Frederick Heyworth Cripps, Sitter, James's friend
  • Maurice de Rothschild, Sitter, James's brother
  • Baron de Brimont, Sitter, friend of James's parents
  • Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Sitter, James's father
  • Eva Cahen, Sitter, daughter-in-law of James's cousin, Leopold
  • Marie de Rothschild, Sitter, wife of James's cousin
  • Marie-Lou Rothschild, Sitter, wife of James's cousin
  • Robert de Rothschild, Sitter, James's cousin
  • Edouard de Rothschild, Sitter, James's cousin
Indexed terms

Person as Subject