Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel (1856-1920) was a Russian Symbolist painter whose struggles with tertiary syphilis probably sealed his reputation as a purveyor of feverish, sometimes demonic visions.
In 1896, Vrubel was commissioned to design a mural for a pavilion in the 1896 Nizhny Novgorod exhibition. He submitted two designs: the one that interests us here was a scene inspired by Rostand’s La Princesse Lointaine (known in Russia as Princess Gryoza, or The Princess of the Dream). The exhibition panel rejected both murals, but they were later completed by other artists under Vrubel’s guidance.
It was presumably this picture - a 53-by-23-foot canvas painted in oils - that was discovered in a Bolshoi Theatre warehouse in 1960 and, after restoration, formed one of the centrepieces of the reopened State Tretyakov Gallery in 1995.
The Gallery’s notes describe it thus:
The ship seems to be soaring over the waves. In the centre is the dying prince, a lyre in his hand. Standing by the ship's mast is his friend, knight and poet Bertrand. To the right are pirates, moved by the intensity of the prince's love; What they have witnessed will subsequently turn them into crusaders, knights of the spirit. In the last moments of his life, the hero sings a song about his reverie, princess Melisande. The entire world – Nature's elements and people's souls alike - are caught by the sounds of lofty music. At this instant, beauty triumphs in the world and a miracle takes place: the ravishing princess bends over the poet's brow. The painting personified the idea of art's timelessness, its spiritual power over the temporal world.In 1905, Vrubel returned to his treatment of the Rudel legend when he created mosaics for the hotel Metropol in Moscow. One facade features a mosaic panel also entitled 'Princess Gryoza'. It’s still there, and often shows up on Flickr.
The following year, Vrubel’s long struggle with tertiary syphilis left him almost blind and mentally unable to continue painting, and he died in 1910. But we don’t expect happy endings where Rudel is concerned.