19th-Century French School, Portrait Of Actress Sarah Bernhardt

19th-Century French School, Portrait Of Actress Sarah Bernhardt

An intriguing portrait believed to be the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). Here we see her in profile wearing a diadem.

During the late-19th-century, Bernhardt was a household name and perhaps the first A-list celebrity. She was known for her controversial lifestyle, a string of high profile lovers, and her abrasive attitude.

Her notoriety began early when she was sacked from her first job at the Comédie-Française for slapping its star actress. The older actress had pushed Sarah’s younger sister into a pillar, which prompted her reaction. Another violent outburst later in life saw her chase a lady with a whip following an unfavourable biography.

Sarah’s personal life was just as controversial as she was promiscuous at a time when morals were high on the agenda. Her flings included Victor Hugo and Edward Prince of Wales, among others.

And if this wasn’t enough drama, she also kept an array of various animals including tigers, lion cubs, a monkey called Darwin, and an alligator that she slept with. Rumour has it that 'Ali Gaga' died due to a diet of milk and champagne.

But despite the various indiscretions, her career continued to blossom and in 1899 Bernhardt became the first woman to appear on screen as Hamlet. She enjoyed tackling male roles and it became one of her trademarks.

“There are five kinds of actresses. Bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” Mark Twain.

In true Bernhardt style, the portrait itself has its own web of controversy. It’s dated July 1894 in the lower left and we’ve been informed that it was presented in advance of her 50th birthday. However, an inscription on the reverse refers to the painter Louis Bouquet and a date of 1910.

The truth remains a mystery, which is perhaps fitting for such an enigmatic performer.

The portrait is housed within a later frame.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 20½” x 23½” / 52cm x 60cm
Year of creation: c. 1900
Provenance: France
Condition: Very presentable with two tidy repairs. Frame with some light age-related wear.

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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