Wednesday, October 28, 2015

171 years of celebrating Sarah Bernhardt

Depending on which part of the world you live, October 22 or 23 would be the day to celebrate the birth of Sarah Bernhardt and all she contributed to the arts and our lives since.

Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar, 1865

wonder | wander | women raise a torch in acknowledgement of this woman of substance.

The French actress, named by her fans the “Divine Sarah,” is recognized as the first international stage star and referred to as the most famous actress the world has ever known

Sarah Bernhardt in a 1911 film adaptation of Camille (La Dame aux camélias)

Sarah Bernhardt was born Henriette Rosine Bernard to the Dutch Jewish courtesan Julie Bernard (?–1876), also referred to as Judith and as Youle. 

Her mother was absent most of her life. Sarah spent her childhood in a pension, cared for by a hired nurse. Later she was sent to Grandchamp Augustine, a convent school near Versailles. 

Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar, 1864

Georges Clairin (1843–1919): Sarah Bernhardt, oil on canvas

When she turned sixteen, her mother’s lover Charles Duc de Morny (1811–1865), the illegitimate half-brother of Napoleon III, designated her career in the theater, and the rest is history.

Bernhardt played some seventy roles in one hundred and twenty five productions in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and the Middle East. 

Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899

Bernhardt as Cleopatra

As Empress Theodora in Sardou's Theodora, 1900

On stage and in real life she played many roles - lover, mother, muse, stage and film actress, poet and playwright, manager and business entrepreneur

She managed several theaters in Paris before leasing the Théâtre des Nations, which was renamed Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, and known today as Théatre de la Ville. 

Bernhardt reinvented herself as a public icon, allowing the romances and tragedies of her stage heroines to reflect her own life. 

Portrait, 1890s

As Empress Theodora in Sardou's Theodora, 1882

La Dame aux camélias, 1881

Her notable roles included the title characters in Phèdre by Jean Baptiste Racine (1639–1699), La Tosca by Victorien Sardou (1831–1908), Sardou’s Théodora and Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe (1791–1861); Doña Sol in Hernani by Victor Hugo (1802–1885) and Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–1895). 

Bernhardt was one of the pioneer silent movie actresses, debuting as Hamlet in the two-minute long film Le Duel d'Hamlet in 1900. She went on to star in eight motion pictures and two biographical films in all. The latter included Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (1912), a film about her daily life at home. 

Sarah Berrnhardt was not deterred by any of her life's circumstances. Often living a life that may have seemed bigger and stranger than fiction, she was a pioneering woman who remains an inspiration today.

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