Born in Metz, Le Prince traveled to Paris in 1750, where he became one of the foremost students of Francois Boucher. In 1758 he moved to Russia, where he worked in Saint Petersburg for Catherine the Great and spent five years travelling among the Russian people. The present pair of drawings are related to a series he executed in 1764-67 to illustrate the Voyage en Sibérie of the Abbé Chappe d'Auteroche. A prominent astronomer, the abbé had gained recognition for his translation and publication of Halley's astronomical tables in 1752. In 1760-62 he made a prolonged visit to Russia, with the purpose of observing the transit of Venus across the sun on 6 June 1761, from a purpose-built observatory in the Siberian capital of Tobolsk. Although both he and Le Prince were in Russia at the same time, they do not appear to have met until after they had both returned to France, and Le Prince seems to have begun working on the illustrations in 1764.
While he was working on the Voyage, Le Prince also explored and developed Russian themes in his other commercial works. The drawing of The Russian Dance in the present lot must be associated with the aquatint, in reverse, that the artist exhibited at the Salon of 1769. Although he treated this subject a number of times, the relationship between the drawing and aquatint is compositionally very close. A year earlier, in 1768, Le Prince had executed a pair of paintings whose subjects correspond to those of the present drawings (both paintings are in private collections, New York (Drawings by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince for the Voyage en Sibérie, exhib. cat., Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, and other locations, 1986, nos. 37 and 38). The two paintings were among five which Le Prince exhibited at the Salon in 1769, along with the aquatint of The Russian Dance.
Although no comparable aquatint of The Seesaw is known, it evidently derives from one of Abbé Chappe d'Auteroche's descriptions in the Voyage: 'Young peasant women sometimes amuse themselves on nice days by jumping on a plank balanced on a log lying on the ground: they stand on the end of the plank and raise themselves by turns, five or six feet high, with the greatest skill' (op. cit., 1986, p. 15).