Art History, Art Nouveau, Artists, Sculptors

Sarah Bernhardt – The Sculptor

Sarah Bernhardt is best known for her work as actress, she starred some of the most popular French plays of late 19th century and early 20th century, as La dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas fils, Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo or La Tosca by Victorien Sardou. She is probably one of the most famous French actresses.

Sarah_Bernhardt_in_Studio with bust of medea
Sarah Bernhardt at her studio (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

But what not many people know is that she was also a sculptor, and a very talented one. Her teacher was Mathieu-Meusnier, an academic sculptor, who was specialised in sentimental storytelling pieces.

Some of her sculptures were inspired by her work as actress. It is the case of an Art Nouveau decorative bronze inkwell of 1880. It is a self-portrait with a fish tail and bat wings, this piece is inspired in her performance in Le Sphinx (1874).

bernhardt_sphinx -museum fine arts boston 1880
Le Sphynx (Photo Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

She exhibited too a group of figures called Après la tempête (“After the storm” in English) at the Paris Salon of 1876 and received an honourable mention. She sold the original work and signed miniatures, earning more than 10.000 francs. Today, the original is displayed in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington DC.

aprc3a8s-la-tempc3aate-after-the-storm-c1876-nmwa-little.jpg
Après la tempête (Photo Credit: NMWA)

Bernhardt created one piece for the famous architect Charles Garnier, an allegorical figure of Song for the group Music on the façade of the Opera House of Monte Carlo.

The death of Ophelia is a high-relief plaque that was exhibited and sold very fast. And is today her best known work as sculptor.

ophelia-little
The death of Ophelia (Photo Credit: Sotheby’s)

There are documented 50 works by Sarah Bernhardt, and we know that 25 of them still exist.

Curiosities:

  • She set up a studio in Montmartre.
  • Many of her works were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris and also in the Columbia Exposition in Chicago.
  • She was attacked by the press and important sculptors of the time as Rodin. It was said that she was pursuing an inappropriate activity. One of her advocates was Emile Zola who said “How droll! Not content with finding her thin, or declaring her mad, they want to regulate her daily activities, … Let a law be passed immediately to prevent the accumulation of talent!”.

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