Sleeping Beauty in Pictures

Pictures of Sleeping Beauty

I was doing a research on another famous fairy tale and it seems Sleeping Beauty inspired many artists, including more ‘serious’ ones. All images in this post are in Public Domain because authors are dead at least for 70 years.

Let’s start with Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) who was most famous by his stained glass works. He also designed mosaics, ceramic tiles and jewellery.

One of his major works is a series of paintings on the theme of The Sleeping Beauty. It is titled The Legend of Briar Rose (this is the title which brothers Grimm used) and consists of four large paintings and ten additional panels. His own daughter Margaret who was about 14 years old at the time was his model for the Briar Rose.

These are the major paintings:


Wood falls asleep

Sleeping king and his counselors

King and counselors fall asleep

people on the garden are sleeping

Folks in the garden are sleeping too

Everybody is sleeping

Everybody is sleeping

Similar scene is the next one:

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

I like the work above for its colors and details. It is painted by Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926) who was a specialist for scenes from history and mythology.

More realistic approach can be seen in the painting by Franciszek Zmurko (1859-1910):


Lady Sleeping, 1910

Zmorko’s painting was finished in the same year he died, being only 51 years old.

Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) painted her vison of the Briar Rose in her characteristic expressionistic style with almost painful intensity:


Briar Rose by Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1901

The same scene in another different style can be seen at works of Frances MacDonald MacNair (1873-1921), who portrayed the sleeping princess in so called Glasgow Style, important part of Arts and Crafts movement at the end of 19th and the begining of 20th century, also belonging to Art Nouveau:


The Sleeping Princess, 1895


The Sleeping Princess, 1896


The Sleeping Princess, 1910

Frances had a sister Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh (1864-1933) who created the sleepin beauty in similar style:


Ophelia by Margaret MacDonald, 1908

Ophelia is only one of famous characters which can be connected with a sleeping beauty, but we won’t dig too dip in this direction.

She can be also viewed as a femme fatale, like Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) saw her in the next painting:


And there is a painting of Sleeping Beauty by Henry Holiday (1839-1927):


As you probably noticed the princess has a child in one of the paintings above, what is consistent with one of the predecessors of The Sleeping Beauty – Sun, Moon and Talia by Gianbattista Basile. Sun and Moon are actually names of Talia’s kids, who are still present at Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty in the woods, but are not mentioned anymore from the collection of brothers Grimm.

Another possibility of making the lady less lonely is of course adding a few maidens to make her company while she is waiting (brothers Grimm claim it was a full century!) for the prince:


John Collier, The Sleeping Beauty, 1921

Shall we add some drama? Let’s take a look at Edward Frederick Brewtnall’s (1846–1902) picture of the moment when prince finds the sleeping princess:

She is waiting for one hundred years!

She is waiting for one hundred years!

And of course one more step gives us the fatal kiss:

The kiss will wake her up

The kiss will wake her up

Picture above is work of Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920) who decided to give sky blue color to both protagonists. I think it gives a religious undertone to the scene. Think about Saint Mary who is so often portrayed in blue color …

The background of the story about the Sleeping Beauty is in fact mythological. Here is a comprehensive article about The Sleeping Beauty with summary, some symbolism and other interesting trivia about the story:

I found connections to several myths including the one about King Arthur and Knights of Round Table, but the most important is certainly the myth about Brunhild (also Brynhild, Brunnhilde, Brynhildr), valkyrie who is punished to sleep until a mortal human marries her.

She was afraid to be married by a coward, so Odin (who punished her) decided to put her sleeping body into a castle on the top of the mountain. Castle was surrounded by shields and her bed with ring of fire. This is how Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) saw the scene:

Sleeping in the ring of fire

Sleeping in the ring of fire

And this is how the same author portrayed Sleeping Beauty in children’s picture book in his original silhouette technique:

Sleeping Beauty - Cover by Arthur Rackham

Sleeping Beauty – Cover by Arthur Rackham

Looks familiar, huh?

To have better perception of Brynhildr, we should look at this portrait also made by Rackham:

Brynhildr was brave

Brynhildr was brave

Well, a mythological background is not the only interesting fact I found about this fairy tale. Most of us know only the diluted version of Sleeping Beauty written by brothers Grimm and later sweetened by Disney Studios.

An older version actually have a second part of the story. When prince wakes up the princess, another characters get into spotlight. In Perrault’s version this is prince’s mother who is ogress and cannibal. She wants to eat (!) the Sleeping Beauty and her kids (yes, two kids!) in sauce Robert!

I found four illustrations by Harry Clarke (1889-1931) including one with the ogress:

Fairies at the beginning

Fairies at the beginning

The enchanted castle

The enchanted castle

There is no kissing scene in this version

There is no kissing scene in this version

But there is an ogress with very special wishes...

But there is an ogress with very special wishes…

Well, this is not the most shocking version of the Sleeping Beauty. In Basile’s Pentamerone the prince is married and he rapes her in her sleep!

Let’s return to more known (and mild) variation. Gustave Dore made a series of six engravings and they were (among other editions) published in the book The Fairy Realm, published in London in 1866. Book of popular fairy tales was not only translated, but also written in verse by Tom Hood (1835-1874).

Here we go:

spindle in sleeping beauty

Scene with a spindle

enchanted castel of sleeping beauty

Enchanted castle

prince charming is coming

Prince arrives

everybody sleeps in sleeping beauty in the woods


the curse of sleeping beauty

…and sleeping


No kissing, please!

Remember, this version has no kissing scene. When prince arrives, she wakes up and this is it. But it ends with a wedding, so we don’t have the gory path with a man eating ogress like in Perrault’s retelling.

This is how Rackham saw the meeting of Siegfried and Brunnhilde:

Siegfried finds Brunnhilde

Siegfried finds Brunnhilde

Not exactly the scene for little kids, right?

Well, we can always turn a page and look how illustrations were done by masters from the field of kid’s illustration, like Walter Crane  (1845-1915) was. His work really doesn’t need description:

Well done!

So we really have two important scenes, one with a spindle:

Dornroschen by Alexander Zick (1845-1907)

Dornroschen by Alexander Zick (1845-1907)


Sleeping Beauty by Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915)

Sleeping Beauty by Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915)

Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (1834-1898) decided to incorporate almost all possible elements of the story in the same scene:


The Briar Rose by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, 1910

German illustrators were particularly in love with the Briar Rose. Here are two illustrations made by Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1905):



It’s hard to say if the pictures above are actually made by Leuteman, because the whole book is credited to him and Carl Offterdinger (1829-1889), so a mistake is definitely possible. It’s also possible both artists cooperated at certain illustrations. In any case, these lovely illustrations in vivid colors are in Public Domain, just like the next one, which is also credited to Offterdinger:


The same is true for a photography made in 1869 by Joseph Albert (1825-1886), an inventor and photographer from Germany, who used Prinz Otto for the role of Prince charming.


And we have a tapestry, made by Johann Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942), who was also a well-known painter and illustrator:


Briar Rose tapestry – black and white reproduction


Briar Rose tapestry – color photo

I managed to find two additional pen and ink line drawings by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933) from the book Grimm’s Household Tales from 1912. Of course The Sleeping Beauty was titled Briar Rose in those days …

illustration of brar rose by robert a bell

robert anning bell illustration of sleeping beauty

We can’t skip another important illustrator from England: Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941) portrayed the sleeping beauty in the woods for famous colored fairy tales by Andrew Lang.



William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) made five scenes, all published in the Old Time Stories, featuring the Perrault’s version.






Frank Thayer Merrill (1848–1936) managed to put five scenes into one single picture! Next illustration is from Th Heart of Oak Books published in 1906.


But this is not the end – we’ll continue with a full series of illustrations by Dutch painter, designer and architect Johann Georg Van Caspel (1870-1928), who illustrated The Sleeping Beauty in the Forest in 1898:














And there’s another series, this time from the book of Perrault’s collection titled The Tales of Passed Times:







These illustrations are from the Art Nouveau era of John Austen (1886-1948), loaded with distinctive objects and strong colors, not to mention countless decorative elements.

I hope you enjoyed our walk through the history of the Sleeping Beauty!

2 thoughts on “Sleeping Beauty in Pictures

  1. Pingback: Howard Pyle | Top Illustrations by Top Artists

  2. Pingback: Warwick Goble – The Fairy Book | Top Illustrations by Top Artists

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