The Swan Princess

Mikhail Vrubel • Painting, 1900, 142.5×93 cm
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1178 × 1736 px • JPEG
32.6 × 50 cm • 88 dpi
19.9 × 29.4 cm • 150 dpi
10.0 × 14.7 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Literary scene
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1900
Size: 142.5×93 cm
Artwork in selections: 211 selections
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Exhibitions history

Description of the artwork «The Swan Princess»

Painting "The Swan Princess" - is one of Mikhail Vrubel's most mystical works. It is part of a cycle of works on which the artist worked at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. They were united by the time of day: the action on the canvases took place in the evening twilight or at night. And also the main characters - mythological characters, so that the cycle of Vrubel paintings "Pan"The Swan Princess,"By nightfall", "Pearl" и "Lilac" is called "Fabulous."

Love is like a dream
The artist was inspired by the character from Pushkin's poetic 'Tale of Tsar Saltan' thanks to his wife Nadezhda Zabele. She was a famous opera singer, whose talent, among others, was admired by the composer and musicologist Mikhail Gnesin. "It is incomparable, smooth and even, light and gentle and full of colours or, more precisely, the shifting shimmering of one colour, utterly expressive, although it flows quite calmly.. he wrote. - And what an appearance! Was it possible, once seeing this creature, not to be enchanted by him for life! Those wide-set eyes, captivatingly feminine, enticingly undemanding smile, thin and supple body.

In the case of Mikhail Vrubel, this was the case. In 1896 he was working as a scenic designer at the Panayev Theatre. Seeing the singer at a rehearsal of "Hansel and Gretel," he was so charmed that during the interval rushed to her with compliments, showering his hands with kisses, and just a few days later he proposed to Nadezhda. Very soon they were married in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Geneva, where Vrubel followed his beloved when she went to Switzerland on tour.

They were a truly happy and devoted couple, and Nadezhda often appeared at her husband's work (1, 2, 3). And although the creation of the painting The Swan Princess is directly linked to her performance of that role in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, the work can hardly be called a portrait even at a stretch. If one judges from the surviving photos with Nadezhda in the stage image, the picture is hardly any resemblance to him. And the type of the opera singer's appearance, which so one would like to describe as "blood with milk", differs greatly from the otherworldly beauty of the ephemeral character on her husband's canvas.

Beauty or beast
The opera based on Pushkin's fairytale was premiered in 1900. Vrubel worked on the sketches for the sets and costumes, and in the same year he was inspired by the image of the Swan Princess - a wise and powerful sorceress who transformed into a beautiful bird. The artist depicted her in the moment of transformation, when she still had a human face, but already began to be covered with snow-white feathers.

The wings of the beautiful Princess occupy the entire foreground of the painting, and it does not seem excessive. They are painted with sharp rhythmic strokes while giving the impression of lightness and air. Especially against the sharply contrasting background of dusk, anxious sky and dark water. And in the midst of this confrontation of darkness and light the image of a young princess in a silver and pearl embroidered costume comes into view. Her pose and gaze leave one staring at her over and over again. The bottomless depth of her huge eyes simultaneously attracts and frightens, and her calm confident gaze promises either reward or perdition.

Vrubel's interpretation of the Swan Princess makes an ambiguous impression. Despite her fragility and innocence, there is something demonic about her. It seems as if by following her, as if yielding to the call of the beautiful siren, you risk perishing in the abyss of the sea. And if you stare too long, the girl begins to seem completely lifeless, and her snow-white gown - a wedding dress, in which unmarried women are buried.

At the edge of worlds
This vision of the fairytale character is perceived quite organically in the context of Vrubel's creative quest of the time. Ten years before that he had created the famous "A demon sitting" (1890) and this theme does not leave him for a long time. Later appear "Demon flying" (1899) и "A demon defeated"(1902), and other actors in the "fairy tale cycle," such as the mythological Pan, also inspire considerable trepidation. Given that just two years after painting "The Swan Princess" the artist first entered a hospital with an acute mental disorder, we can consider the disturbing motifs of the works of this period harbingers of impending illness.

Whatever the case, it is one of the artist's finest works and the most recognizable paintings in Russian painting. The haunting image of the Tsarevna is forever imprinted in one's memory, worth seeing only once. The painting at once got into the collection of Mikhail Morozov, an industrialist and art connoisseur. After his death in 1910, in accordance with his will, it was transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery, where it is exhibited up to the present day.

Author: Natalia Azarenko