In a rural setting, a peasant family sits admiring a baby in a cradle suspended from the branches of a tree. The composition takes its name from the distinctive hanging cradle made of boughs lashed together. Surrounded by goats and sheep, an old woman in a red dress and decorative headscarf holds a distaff and points towards the infant as if telling its fortune. The blue sky with pink-tinged clouds recalls the influence of François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince's former teacher.
Jean-Baptiste Le Prince served in Saint Petersburg at the court of Catherine the Great between 1760 and 1762. Upon his return to Paris in 1765, he made this painting and thirteen others that he exhibited in the Salon. To an eighteenth-century French audience, this improbable scene would have seemed exotic and picturesque. In reality, Russian peasants were still serfs tied to the land and its owner; it is unlikely that they would have enjoyed the leisure time depicted here.
Based on drawings and recollections from the artist's extensive travels throughout Russia, The Russian Cradle proved immensely popular and was replicated in drawings, prints, and even as decoration on Sèvres porcelain.