History

Matryoshka doll

Matryoshka doll: an amazing phenomenon reflecting the art trends of the late 19th century. In that period, on the wave of Russian society's growing interest in the traditions of national art, artworks were created with the participation of both folk craftsmen and professional artists. The first Russian lathe turned matryoshka nesting doll was born at the "Children's Education" workshop of Anatoly and Maria Mamontov in Moscow in the late 1890s, and it soon won popularity. At the time, there was an increased demand for learning games and intellect developing toys, and the matryoshka doll, a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other, easily taught children to determine the size of objects and their colors and shapes and helped them develop a good eye, spatial thinking and a sense of composition. 


The wooden nesting doll was named Matryoshka after the Russian female name Matryona, which was very popular among peasants at the time. This name was associated with the image of the mother of a large peasant family who possessed good health and a partly figure. The creators of the matryoshka doll—Vasily Zvyozdochkin (1876-1956), who came from a family of lathe workers in the Podolsk Uyezd (District) outside of Moscow, and the noted artist Sergei Malyutin (1859-1937), a vivid representative of the neo-Russian style in art-laid the foundations for its shape and painting design reflecting the national art traditions. The first matryoshka nesting dolls consisted of eight dolls. It was decorated with delicate painting in soft tints with exquisitely elaborate details on a wood burning outline. The outermost doll was a girl in an embroidered shift, sarafan (jumper dress), apron, and kerchief with a bright flower pattern, holding a black rooster. The inner dolls were girls and a boy and the innermost, a baby. All the nested figures were different from one another. The delicate, pale-faced image of the first matryoshka doll, executed by professional hand, incorporated the characteristic features of the fin de siecle period-features of Art Nouveau and the Russian style. 


In 1900, the matryoshka doll was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) in Paris, where it gained wide recognition from the public and won a bronze medal. After its success at the Paris World's Fair, the interest in the toy increased substantially; craftsmen continued to turn and paint it at the "Children's Education" workshop, and when the workshop was dosed down, the center of producing matryoshka dolls moved to the town of Sergiyevsky Posad in the Moscow Gubernia (Province), where training and demonstration workshops and home-working handicraftsmen began to master the production of the new a lathed toy. Thus began an important stage in the history of the Russian matryoshka doll. 


Sergiyevsky Posad craftsmen bought samples of the dolls made at the "Children's Education" workshop and used them as models for their subsequent creative development and reproduction. At first, turned blanks for painting were brought to Sergiyevsky Posad from the village of Babenki in the Podolsk Uyezd, Moscow Gubernia, since Podolsk craftsmen had years long experience of making turned articles placed in one another (Easter eggs, balls, etc.), and the process of producing nested shapes was already well established. In 1905, Vasily Zvyozdochkin, who was also a native of the Podolsk Uyezd, was invited to work at the local workshop as a turnery instructor. 


The distinct ornamental decorative style of the Sergiyevsky Posad matryoshka doll took shape gradually. Characteristic of the period of the 1900-1920s was a wide variety of painting techniques. The toys were decorated with painting on a wood burning outline and coated with spirit or oil varnish. The images on matryoshka dolls also became much more varied. In that period, the matryoshka doll was a doll whose shape and painting design were realistic "records" of the life of the period, representing people of various social strata, professions and nationalities. Matryoshka dolls with painting based on the motifs of literary works and fairy tales or featuring historical persons also became widespread. 


A substantial contribution to the development of the matryoshka doll was made by a galaxy of professional artists, art collectors and art critics of the period. One of them was Nikolai Bartram (1873-1931), a noted researcher of toys and the founder of the Museum of Toys, the first one of its kind in Russia, who developed sketches for quite a number of thematic matryoshka dolls. 


Quite remarkable are works by professional artist Vladimir Sokolov (1872-1946), whose characteristic painting style combines profoundly realistic images and decorative conventionality of manner. His boyarinas and peasant girls, Gypsy women and "bourgeois" men are typical and easily recognizable. Of much interest are matryoshka dolls made by Sokolov on commission from a branch of the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia. From the late 1920s on, Sokolov created a series of unique satirical matryoshka dolls and doll heads featuring anticlerical themes that were topical at the time and then, later on, antifascist themes. 


No less interesting are matryoshka dolls created by professional artist Ivan Oveshkov (1877-1942), made in a special shape unique to each doll, with less realistic execution of painting details, greater generalization and conventionalized proportions. 


The first stage in the development of matryoshka dolls was completed by the early 1930s when, alongside the practice of creating distinct authors' works, the stylistics of a mass-produced, commercial-scale type of matryoshka dolls took final shape. 


The 1930s saw one of the most conspicuous periods in the history of toy production in Sergiyev Posad (Zagorsk from 1930). The government's resolution on the economic development of industrial cooperatives secured the right of the Sergiyev Posad Handicraft Industry Artel (cooperative association of craftsmen), set up on the basis of several artels and comprising 836 craftsmen, to be called the "second industry of the Soviet Union." The artel used a flow line method of painting where each craftsman was responsible for its individual element. Predominating the product line was the traditional type of the Sergiyev Posad matryoshka doll in the form of a peasant woman-the mother of a family clad in a sarafan, shift and apron and holding some domestic utensils in her hands. The already customary matryoshka dolls such as "Boyar", "Boyarina", "Bogatyr" (Epic Hero), "Toadstool," and others were also produced. In addition, new images of matryoshka dolls dressed in the costumes of various peoples of Russia were developed." 


Universal recognition of the Sergiyev Posad matryoshka doll and a high demand for it not only in the country but also abroad led to the emergence of a number of other centers of matryoshka doll production. One of them is the already mentioned handicraft industry center in the village of Babenki, Podolsk Uyezd, in the environs of Moscow. The Babenki matryoshka doll is close in shape and painting style to that made in Sergiyev Posad. However, the color scheme of the Babenki matryoshka doll makes greater use of yellow, crimson and blue colors. Much later, in the 1960s, its new tapering shape and painting on natural wood-color background became established. 


Wooden toys made by Podolsk craftsmen were unequaled in workmanship and variety. In Babenki, multi-piece nesting articles such as 18-, 24-, 36- and 50-piece balls, eggs and pyramids were manufactured. One day, N. Ye. Romakhin, a turner from Babenki, made a 100-piece egg—a masterpiece of turnery unparalleled anywhere in the world. 


The Nizhni Novgorod area had for several centuries been one of Russia's biggest traditional centers for making wooden artistic articles and toys. The skills and techniques of woodworking accumulated over the years enabled local craftsmen quickly to launch the manufacture of matryoshka dolls first in the village of Merinovo, Semyonov Uyezd, and later on, in the town of Semyonov. From the 1920s, it was mainly home craftsmen, who formed associations-artels, that painted matryoshka dolls in Semyonov. One of the first to emerge in 1925 was the cooperative artel "Craftsman Artist", established by graduates of the Semyonov School of Artistic Woodworking. 


The painting design of the Semyonov matryoshka doll featured large red or pink fancy flowers surrounded with buds, small flowers, berries, and leaves. The painting was made in bright contrasting aniline dyes with black outlining on a yellow background. Early Semyonov matryoshka dolls had a decidedly stern countenance with slightly knit brows and with lips tight shut. Compared to its Sergiyev Posad counterpart, the Semyonov matryoshka doll has more harmonious proportions: the graceful top of the figurine gradually blends into its stouter bottom part 


By 1960, a number of Semyonov factories previously united into the artel "Igrushka" (Toy) were reorganized to become a single factory with the matryoshka doll occupying one of the central places in its product line. In that period, Semyonov matryoshka dolls, traditionally attired in a shift, sarafan, apron and kerchief, acquired a more cheerful look with wide-open, large eyes, a small, bright-red mouth and apple-rosy cheeks. 


Following the example of Semyonov craftsmen, the painting of matryoshka dolls began to be practiced in the village of Polkhovsky Maidan, Voznesensk District, Nizhni Novgorod Region, where woodworking has been and remains the main craft. Local peasants learnt the craft back in the late 18th century from the monks of the Sarov Monastery of the Holy Dormition, who made wooden tableware at their turneries. 


The wood turning craft was further developed here in the 19th century due to the presence of lush forests in the area and the conducting affairs in the nearby cities of Arzamas and Nizhni Novgorod. Apparently, in the early 20th century, through their contacts with their colleagues in the Moscow Gubernia, Polkhovsky Maidan s craftsmen became familiar with wood burning techniques and began to use them in producing their own matryoshka dolls. 


In the early 1930s, the craftsmen began to make use of alcohol-based aniline dyes. The wood burned outlining of the drawing was gradually replaced by simpler-to-execute contour outlining with black Indian ink. In 1928-1930, the artel "Krasnaya Zarya" (Red Dawn) was set up in Polkhovsky Maidan. In that period, an original decorative art system was developed and distinct local painting techniques appeared such as "flowers with contour outlining, when the floral design is first outlined with black Indian ink using an ink pen and then the shapes are filled with color; "flowers without contour outlining," when the flowers and leaves are painted directly without outlining the contour; and "dappling"-free brush painting with linear strokes or spots. 


Characteristic of the shape of the Polkhovsky Maidan matryoshka doll is a slightly wider bottom part and a slender, slightly "sheared" top part with a small head. The features of its face, made in the shape of a large, irregular circle, are sketched with a few quick strokes: asymmetrically placed narrow slanted eyes, flat arched eyebrows, a nose faintly marked with a dot, and a small delicate mouth. The Polkhovsky Maidan matryoshka doll features the image of apeasant woman in a bright festive costume painted in various colors-crimson, red, purple, sky blue, and yellow. 


In I960. the artel was transformed into the Polkhovsky Maidan Toy Factory "Krasnaya Zarya" (Red Dawn), and intensive mass production of matryoshka dolls began. 


Craftsmen of the settlement of Krutets, located several kilometers from Polkhovsky Maidan, displayed boldness of approach to creating new varieties of painting and making use of not only aniline dyes but also oil paints and whites, which enhanced the decorative effect of the toys. Krutets matryoshka dolls are distinguished from those made in Polkhovsky Maidan by a more rounded shape, and their painting designs feature dense floral ornamental patterns of large roses, daisies, tulips, cornflowers and apples surrounded by small leaves. Not infrequently, rural landscapes and representations of birds and animals are organically included in the floral patterns. 


The Vyatka (Kirov) Region, neighboring on the Nizhni Novgorod Region, has long been famous for its traditions of artistic woodworking. 


The history of the matryoshka doll craft in this area begins from the 1920s A substantial part in developing the individual style of making the Vyatka (Kirov) matryoshka doll was played by Zagorsk/Sergiyev 


Posad instructors of the local craftsmen. At first, the Vyatka matryoshka doll was rather similar to the one made in Sergiyev Posad: it was the same round-faced peasant girl in a sarafan, shift, and kerchief on the head. Its painting was done with oil paints and gouache. Vyatka matryoshka dolls began to be produced by the artel "Progress" set up in 1937, which was an association of home craftsmen living in the vicinity of the city of Kirov. 


In the 1960s, Kirov craftsmen adopted the method of painting with aniline dyes from their Nizhni Novgorod counterparts. The 1970s saw a major landmark in the development of the craft when craftsmen G.A. Kurchanov and V.N. Nikonov created 14- and 15-piece matryoshka dolls using the straw applique technique, often referred to as the encrusted straw technique. 


In the 1960-1980s, in view of a growing public interest in the matryoshka doll its production was started at a number of handicraft cooperatives, at shops set up for the purpose at major woodworking plants, and at toy factories located in the Belorussian and Ukrainian 


Soviet Socialist Republics, the Bashkir, Man and Mordovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics, and in other regions. 


A major part in this process was played by the All-Union Research Institute of Toys opened in Zagorsk in 1932. Prototypes of matryoshka dolls were developed at the Science 


Laboratory of Wooden Toys and then forwarded to all of the country's toy producing enterprises. However, this kind of "centralized leadership" affected the artistic originality of the nesting doll producing centers. Nevertheless, artists working in the provinces sought original shapes and ways of decorating matryoshka dolls, drawing inspiration from the imagery of local folklore and the national costumes and ornamental patterns of their regions. 


In many regions of Russia, the period between the 1960s and the 1990s was the time when the factory production of matryoshka dolls was the most active. At the same time, such intensity of producing them on an industrial scale led to a certain blurring of stylistic boundaries among the matryoshka doll making crafts. 


The 1990s marked the beginning of the third stage in the development of the matryoshka doll, which is continuing today—the stage of free market in producing and selling it, the time of the so-called author's matryoshka doll. Leading factories in arts and crafts centers found themselves in tough economic conditions, many talented craftsmen moved to other areas of activity, the production techniques changed, and the artistic level of the products dropped. At the same time, there was a marked rise in the creative activity of individual craftsmen. The thematic diversity of painting was restored, and the matryoshka doll grew increasingly decorative, acting as a kind of canvas for visualization of various subjects, both timeless and topical. At present, the themes of family and motherhood, links between generations, and the transfer of cultural experience are once again gaining in importance. 


The matryoshka doll is a phenomenon of great artistic significance. As a folk art, it has a vast potential for reflecting the social and cultural processes in the history of the country in which it came into being. Its mass production at the workshops of Sergiyev Posad and then, later on, in other craft centers has made this educational toy a widely recognizable national symbol. 

The History of Matryoshka