This set of Russian nesting dolls belongs to our Modern Foreign Languages Department collection.
A matryoshka doll is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. The name "matryoshka" (матрёшка), literally "little matron", is a diminutive form of Russian female first name "Matryona" (Матрёна). The first Russian nested doll set was made in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo.
Matryoshka dolls often follow a particular theme. Originally, themes were often drawn from tradition or fairy tale characters, in keeping with the craft tradition—but since the 20th century, they have embraced a larger range, including Soviet leaders. Modern artists create many new styles of nesting dolls. Common themes include floral, Christmas, Easter, religious, animal collections, portraits and caricatures of famous politicians, musicians, athletes, astronauts, "robots," and popular movie stars. Matryoshka dolls that featured communist leaders of Russia became very popular among Russian people in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.