A matryoshka doll, also known as Russian nesting doll refers to a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. The name is believed to be a derivative of "Matriosha" or "Matriona," which were female names that enjoyed immense popularity among Russian peasants. The name connotes the matriarch of a big Russian family.
The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin, designed by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter in the Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov, a Russian industrialist and patron of arts.The doll set was painted by Malyutin. Malyutin's doll set consisted of eight dolls—the outermost was a girl in a traditional dress holding a rooster. The inner dolls were girls and a boy, and the innermost a baby.
Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin were inspired by a doll from Honshu, the main island of Japan. Sources differ in descriptions of the doll, describing it as either a round, hollow daruma doll or a fukuruma nesting doll, portraying a portly bald old Buddhist monk.
Savva Mamontov's wife presented the dolls at the Exposition Universelle (1900) in Paris, where the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon after, matryoshka dolls were being made in several places in Russia and shipped around the world.