Eugène-André Champollion, Portrait de M.lle Sarah Bernhardt After Lepage

Eugène-André Champollion, Portrait de M.lle Sarah Bernhardt After Lepage

This late 19th-century etching of the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, skilfully conveys her captivating spirit and gregarious energy. It’s etched by Eugène André Champollion (1848-1901) and after a portrait by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884).

At the time, Bernhardt was a household name and perhaps the first true A-list celebrity. She was known for her scandalous 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.

Here, Bernhardt is depicted in profile, holding a small statue of Orpheus, the mythical Greek legend of music and poetry. She’s looking down upon it, towering above - like a God clutching a minion. It’s a suitably grandiose suggestion for such an omnipresent entertainer. Note also the light, almost divine in nature, that enters from above and guides the eye first upon her and then to the figure.

The etching is signed and housed within a later frame.

Learn more about Eugène-André Champollion in our directory.

Medium: Etching on paper
Overall size: 13½” x 15½” / 34cm x 40cm
Year of creation: c. 1879
Condition: Overall very presentable. Some foxing.

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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