Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Russian Folktale Art Fit for a Tsar!

The work of Palekh artists must be counted among the true wonders of Russian art. When you look at their creations on black lacquer backgrounds each of them seems to glisten and sparkle with gold, silver and all the colors of the rainbow... 
-Abram Raskin, art scholar and Merited Art Worker of Russia.

I'd love your feedback and comments about these two gorgeous folk tale books (not technically "fairy tale", if you remember from my last post) I brought home from my trip to St. Petersburg. (Remember, a comment will enter you into my May Giveaways!)

Both books are illustrated with artwork from painted Russian lacquer boxes. By the way - I see that you can get used copies of the Russian Fairy Tales book very inexpensively, here from Amazon - for sure a lot cheaper than what you'd pay for one of the lacquer boxes!  This post is full of my own photos from Pushkin's Fairy Tales...

Russian lacquer art developed from the 17th-19th Century Russian icon painting tradition - which sadly came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1917 (although thankfully this tradition is being revived by young artists of the 21st Century) . The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes with icons, needed a way to make a living.

Since many of the icons had been painted on cypress-wood panels or a papier-mâché base, the artists  began specializing in the craft of making papier-mâché decorative boxes and panels that were lacquered and then hand painted, often with scenes from folk tales.

There are four centers (schools) which practice the art of this Russian craft - both of my fairy tale books show the work of artists from the Palekh School, using the technique of painting in egg-based tempera overlaid with intricate gold leaf highlighting to decorate their miniature lacquer boxes.

 (Artwork by Alexei Orleansky a painter of the Palekh school, from Russian Fairy tales)

In my next few posts I'll be sharing different Russian folktales with you.  Today, I'll be sharing the artwork and stories from Pushkin's Fairy Tales.  Pushkin's tales are quite long, and written in verse (he was more influenced by French fairy tales then Russian folk tales, which were always written in prose).  I bought the book for my son-in-law, because he's especially interested in Russia and its literature.

From "Ruslan and Ludmilla", an epic tale in verse by Pushkin,
published in 1820.
From "The Golden Cockerel"
"The Tale of the Golden Cockerel" was the last folktale in verse by Pushkin, published in 1835.  It's based on a couple of chapters from the short story "Legend of the Arabian Astrologer" from the Tales of Alhambra by Washington Irving!

The only tale of Pushkin's that might interest younger children is "The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Champions" (champions could also be translated as "knights").  Does the number seven make you think of any other fairy tale - SNOWWHITE AND THE SEVEN...?

Here is the Princess, in all her glory (and holding the "Pippin" apple), with the seven brother knights -  "champions...ruddy, bushy-whiskered men" (they're not dwarfs in this version, and they live in a mansion in the forest, as opposed to a cottage).

The Princess and her seven champions

She runs away from her step-mother, the Queen, and finds the knights' forest mansion.  The seven brothers love her, but she tells them she cannot marry any of them because "another still is dearest. I must his forever be; Elisey, the prince, is he."

This prince eventually comes looking for her - asking the Sun and Moon to help him find his soon-to-be-wife.  Little does her fiance know that she has been approached by an old woman and given an apple that was poisoned.  It is the Wind who finally tells him of her glass coffin and where to find it... 

From the coffin she is creeping; Ah, for joy they both are weeping!  
Now he lifts the maid away Out of darkness into day 
And the two are homeward faring, Happy, friendly talk are sharing.
Quickly round the tidings ring, 'Saved - the daughter of the king!'

One other Pushkin tale in this book that I'll mention is "Tale of Tsar Sultan".  It's been published as a picture book on its own with illustrations by one of my favorite present-day Russian artists,  Gennady Spirin.  You can see his version here.

I hope you're enjoying all this truly remarkable Russian-lacquer-box-fairy-tale-artwork!  More coming in my next post...and remember to leave a comment, if you want to be entered in my May Giveaways (it's Matryoshka Madness!)


  1. Absolutely beautfiful! I don't think I've ever commented on your blog but I LOVE it! Have shared it with so many as well. :)Laurie

  2. So pretty...almost like icons, painted in such a charming and sweet way. I ♥ the Snow White and the 7 champions!!! I have a pretty little Palekh box given to me by a Russian friend.

  3. Oh this just takes my breath away! I have a lovely book you would enjoy seeing, http://www.juliasbookbag.com/2013/03/russian-lacquer-fairy-tales.html

    So happy to see all this fabulous Russian art here!

    1. Oh wow - stunning - thank you! And YOU HAVE A LACQUER BOX!!!! You're one lucky lady! :)