|Born Rosine Bernard in Paris, the illegitimate daughter of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Sarah Bernhardt was 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.
A shameless self-publicist throughout her long career, Sarah Bernard was photographed time and again by all the best photographers in the world, invariably demanding to be paid up front, rather than accepting a percentage of the profits. At the same time, of course, she was wielding photography to foster her fame, skilfully manipulating her public image. As famous for her formidable personality as she was for her acting, the public were avid for details of her temper tantrums and her violent feuds, not to mention her many love affairs. Her patriotism made her a French national treasure. When she died in the arms of her only child, Maurice, on 26 March 1923, all France went into mourning.
Photographed by William and Daniel Downey of Newcastle and London.
condition: The print shows some fine spotting, and its tones drop off a bit towards the upper
right-hand corner of the image.
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