The Story Behind Nesting Dolls

Nesting dolls.  I am always asked when people see the large selection that our store has available, “what is the story behind these?”   There is a story; an interesting one.

It is unclear where the idea of a nesting doll came from.  The most popular history indicates that an artist named Sergei Maliutin saw such a creation from Japan in the late 1890s and requested a woodmaker named Vasiliy Zveydochin to create a doll from a wood lathe.  The wooden doll was made and Maliutin painted it.  The first Russian nesting doll from Maliutin is shown here and is displayed in the Museum of Toys in the artistic and holy village of Sergeiv Posad, in Russia.

Also unclear is when the nesting doll was first referred to as a “matrioshka”, which is the proper Russian name for it.  It is known that the name “Matriona” was a very popular female name of the time and that the word “mater” is latin for the word “mother”.  It makes sense then as the first nesting dolls almost always portrayed a mother with her family inside.

In the early 1900s, the dolls would be made in the Russian Children Educational Toy Factory in Sergeiv Posad, but there were very little variations to the style of painting that could be found.  It was in the 1930s that the nesting doll became the canvas for multiple styles and themes, to include political dolls and dolls that would tell a story.

Today, the matrioshka (also spelled matryoshka) is arguably the most recognizable type of art form originating from Russia.  Dolls come in multiple shapes and sizes and quality.  The themes found range from traditional style paintings, to very floral designs, political figures, popular sport themes, famous cartoons, and celebrities.  A person is able to find a nesting doll that appeals to their collection, fascination, or just about any topic of her interest.  Undoubtedly, Maliutin never imagined how the art and popularity of dolls would evolve and grow.

Published on October 8, 2014.

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