The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt

A cabinet card portrait of the divine Sarah Bernhardt. 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.

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. In 1890, Napoleon Sarony is alleged to have paid her $10,000 for a single sitting, presumably secure in the knowledge that her image would guarantee him a profit on the deal.

Photographed by William and Daniel Downey of London and Newcastle.

Code: 125300
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