Description & Technical information

The present sheet depicts Sarah Bernhardt in the title role in Alfred de Musset’s Romantic play Lorenzaccio, performed in Paris in 1896. Written in 1834, the play was meant to be read rather than performed, since - with thirty-nine scene changes and numerous characters - it was deemed too complicated to stage, and indeed no performances of the play occurred in Musset’s lifetime. Lorenzaccio was first staged in 1896 at Sarah Bernhardt’s Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, where she took on the lead role of Lorenzo de’ Medici. As the poet and writer Anatole France wrote of her performance, ‘She formed out of her own self a young man melancholic, full of poetry and of truth.’

At least two other drawn portraits of Sarah Bernhardt by Louis-Albert Besnard are known. A watercolour portrait, dated 1894, was given by the artist to the sitter, and is now in a private collection, while a highly finished portrait in watercolour and gouache, dated 1896, was dedicated to Bernhardt’s daughter-in-law, Mme. Maurice Bernhardt, née Princess Maria-Teresa (‘Terka’) Jablonowska, and is in another private collection.

The present sheet was said to have been given by Bernhardt to her granddaughter, Simone Bernhardt-Gross (1889-1982), the daughter of her son Maurice, and thence passed by descent to Simone’s daughter, Emmie Terka Reichenbach (b.1910).

Medium: Pencil, watercolour, brown wash and gouache
Signature: Signed Louis ABesnard. at the lower right centre.

Dimensions: 10.9 x 20.5 cm (4¹/₄ x 8¹/₈ inches)
Provenance: Given by Sarah Bernhardt to her granddaughter, Simone Bernhardt-Gross, and pasted into an early 20th century album of photographs
By descent to Emmie Terka Reichenbach, née Gross
Thence by descent.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints