It’s nearly impossible to visit Russia without coming across the colourful Russian nesting dolls, otherwise known as Matryoshka. The quintessential souvenir is sold in shops from villages to big cities (our Viking ship’s store had a handsome collection as well).


These dolls are thought to have been inspired by a doll brought back from Honshu, Japan about 120 years ago, yet Sergey Malyutin designed the first set of eight dolls in 1890 with the help of carver Vasily Zvyozdochkin.

Malyutin’s set was exhibited at Paris World Expo a decade later and received a bronze medal, forever sealing the deal as an example of Russian folk art.


To this day, the dolls are hand-carved starting with the smallest leading to the largest. Traditionally, one artisan carves the dolls while another paints them.

Matryoshka painting

During our journey aboard the Viking Truvor, we visited the village of Mandrogy, where I participated in a matryoshka doll-painting workshop inside a historic artisan house. We were provided with three wooden dolls, special honey-based watercolours and a couple of brushes.

Matryoshka painting-1

The base colour is first applied to all dolls, then the shawl and arms are painted in.

Viking Truvor-41
[My completed set, waiting to be lacquered once home]

Details are added once several layers of paint in these areas have dried. I’ve found some pretty amazing sets of matryoshka dolls while in Russia, but quality sets are priced out of most budgets so the next best thing is always a photo.


I was a guest aboard Viking’s Waterways of the Tsars sailing and was given a 50% off rate on the matryoshka painting workshop. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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