Russia Literature Pushkin Fairytale The Tale of Tsar Saltan

The Tale of Tsar Saltan

Tsar Saltan overhears three sisters who are confiding to each other their views on the subject of happiness. The youngest, having declared that she would wish nothing better than to become the mother of a hero, is chosen by Saltan for his bride. While he is at war, the jealous sisters plot against the young Queen, who with her little son is consigned to the waves in a barrel, which drifts onto an island. One day the Tsarevich, now a sturdy youth, saves a swan from a pike that is pursuing it. He is rewarded with magic powers enabling him to build a Wonder City, over which he is chosen to reign, and the swan, having resumed her former estate of Princess, consents to share his throne. Returning from the wars, Tsar Saltan hears of the famous island, and journeying thither is reunited with his Queen.

Ivan Bilibin illustrated The Tale of Tsar Saltan in 1904 and 1905. One of his first projects linked to Alexander Pushkin’s fairytales, the artist’s illustrations successfully combined the principles of professional painting and the traditions of folk art and popular prints. Bilibin successfully employed his knowledge of the past, acquired on his travels across northern Russia. Although Bilibin had still to achieve the stylistic unity of his illustrations to The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, one can still sense the enigmatic and colourful magic of the world of Tsar Saltan.

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