|Born in Paris, the illegitimate daughter of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Sarah Bernhardt was the stage name of Rosine Bernard (1845-1923), the French actress who dominated the stage of her day. She was neither the most beautiful nor the most talented, but she skilfully cultivated her super-stardom, performing at the Comédie Française in Paris and frequently touring the world. The Divine Sarah excelled in tragic roles, including Cordelia in King Lear, the title role in Racine's Phèdre, and the male roles of Hamlet and of Napoleon's son in Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon. She is depicted here as the Empress of Byzantium in Victorien Sardou's Théodora, written especially for her, and in which she starred in 1884. The play was renowned as much for its Byzantine splendour as for its action. The costumes worn by the palace guards (observed a dazzled journalist) cost over 300 francs apiece. In the scene set in the Imperial box at the Hippodrome, Sarah wore a dress of sky-blue satin with a train four yards long, covered with embroidered peacocks with ruby eyes and feathers of emeralds and sapphires.
Nadar first photographed Sarah Bernhardt in 1864 when she was fresh out of the Paris Conservatory.
Nadar (real name Félix Tournachon) was born in Paris in 1820. A theatre critic, writer, and publisher of literary magazines he also found fame as a successful caricaturist, but when in 1854 he took up photography, his talent and originality (plus an astonishing aptitude for self-promotion) ensured that he quickly became the most famous of his day. He was the first to work with artificial light taking photographs in the Paris catacombs, and when he became a keen balloonist, he naturally took his cameras with him, taking the first aerial photographs of his native city. The vast studio that he opened in1860 at 35 Boulevarde des Capucines drew customers of name and rank, and members of the bohemian circle. His famous scarlet signature across the façade of the building was illuminated by gas flames at night. However, the great Paris studios were, for the most part, founded with external capital at the heart of which the photographer was often no more than the salaried employee of demanding share-holders. A foreigner in his own realm, Nadar was soon cursing 'this idiot's profession, so insipid after thirteen years of work.'
condition: Excellent, both print and mount.
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