The Sleeping Beauty: The Prince Discovers the Princess and Wakes Her with a Kiss
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Seven panels tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. The awakening of the Princess by Prince Charming's kiss is the last 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 Prince in hunting clothes spies the castle, covered in vegetation. Here, he has changed into a more regal outfit, befitting the sumptuous late-Romanesque interior of the Princess's bedroom. The hero is shown in profile, as he is depicted in panel 4 (acc. no. 89.1995.4). Sweeping lines culminate in the triumphant crown above the bed and the recurring motif of the shield with a knight on horseback. Echoing this celebratory imagery, the carpet leading to the bed features a phoenix, a symbol of resurrection, and the Princess's bed is decorated with peacocks and a fountain, a symbol of eternal life, which also appeared in panel 3 (acc. no. 89.1995.3).
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. The bed and canopy in this panel are very much like that in a stage set design for the 1921 production of 'Sleeping Beauty', demonstrating Bakst's simultaneous use of ideas for more than one project (Opéra Museum Paris). 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 reminiscent of the Princess 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 appears as Prince Charming; his brother's wife is the Princess, and the little dog is Muffin, the pet of James's wife, Dorothy. Several preparatory portrait sketches by Bakst are also at Waddesdon, including one of James (acc. no. 59.1996) and of Muffin (acc. no. 58.1996). 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
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
2142 x 858
Signature & date
signed and dated, lower left: 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.
- 'Léon Bakst: The Sleeping Beauty', Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, 9 November 1992 - 9 January 1993, no. 7
- ‘Designing Dreams: Léon Bakst at 150’, at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, 8 June - 28 August 2016
- 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. 222; as 'The Awakening'.
- 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. 61, fig. 7; p. 69, fig. 27; pp. 93-94, figs 60-62; p. 109, fig. 108; pp. 114, 116-120; p. 133; cat. no. 6.
- Diana Souhami; Bakst: The Rothschild Panels of the Sleeping Beauty; London; Philip Wilson Publishers; 1992; pp. 80-81, 109-111, ill.
- Charles Spencer; Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes; London; Academy Group; 1995; pp. 192-203, 223, figs 303, 304; as 'The Awakening'; fig. 304 incorrectly captioned.
- Jean Louis Gaillemin, Itinerari segreti: La bella addormentata, Architectural Digest: Le più belle case del mondo, 199, December 1997, 170-175; p. 174, ill.
- Michael Hall, An Acquisitive Gene: Lord Rothschild's Collecting for Waddesdon, Apollo, July 2007-August 2007, 44-49; pp. 47-49, fig. 5.
- Yelena Bespalova, Bakst's Panels for the Rothschilds in Waddesdon, Russian Fine Art Magazine, 2006, 29-39; p. 34, ill.
- James de Rothschild, Sitter
- Noémie de Rothschild, Sitter, James's sister-in-law
- Dorothy de Rothschild, Alluded to in image, dog Muffin
Person as Subject
- Rothschild, James de (b.1878, d.1957)
- Rothschild, Noémie de (b.1888, d.1968)
- Rothschild, Dorothy de (b.1895, d.1988)
- Works of Art, Literature & Music/Characters - Other/Sleeping Beauty
- Objects/Furnishings/Bed or Cot
- Decorative Motifs & Patterns
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Flowers
- Architecture/Architectural Features/Fountain
- Heraldry/Heraldic Devices
- Everyday Life/Relationships/Courtship & Marriage
- Architecture/Architectural Features/Fountain
- Allegory & Personifications/Eternity
- Allegory & Personifications/Resurrection
- Decorative Motifs & Patterns/Flower Motifs/Fleurs-de-lis