Paris: J.M. Lopez, 1872. Bust portrait of Victor Hugo (3 7/8” X 5 3/8”), mounted on its original card (6 1/4” X 8 3/8”). Inscribed, in black ink (trailing from the photograph down to the card), “A mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt admiration et reconnaissance. Victor Hugo” (To Miss Sarah Bernhardt admiration and gratitude. Victor Hugo). The card is backed with contemporary framing craft paper and mounted to it is an image of Bernhardt’s study, showing this very photograph (a fillet on the former frame) hanging on the wall centered over her desk. Slight edge darkening and slighter spotting to the photograph, but very good, the inscription sharp and unfaded, the card to which it is mounted has some mat burn and a few spots of foxing, its edges cleanly cut, but the lower left corner was cut on a slight angle. Very good. Item #804
A monumental association between (at the time) the most famous author and the most famous actress, and there are no 19th century comparables like this one, that are nearly as great as this one.
Here is a précis of Bernhardt’s story. She was born in 1844 and attended her first play at 15 with her mother and 2 of her mother’s friends, Charles de Morny and Alexandre Dumas. She was so emotionally taken by it that she cried throughout. Dumas calmed her afterwards, spoke with her at length, and told her mother that Sarah’s intellect, and emotional wiring, destined her to be an actress, and a star. Morny, who was half–brother to Napoleon III, fixed her acceptance into the Paris Conservatory, Dumas coached her, and she made her professional debut at 18. A dozen other roles followed but she left Paris for Belgium, had a sultry romance with The Prince of Linge, then returned to Paris to have their child. In 1866 she signed with Théâtre de L’Odéon and in 1868 became the star Dumas had predicted, playing the lead role in the revival of his play Kean. She served as a nurse during the Franco–Prussian war (converting the Odéon into a hospital) and when the French 2nd empire was replaced by the 3rd republic, Victor Hugo returned to France from a 19–year political exile and met Bernhardt. Once the siege of Paris was over and the theaters reopened, Hugo’s play, Ruy Blas, was staged in Jan. 1872 to celebrate his homecoming. Bernhardt played the lead role as the Queen of Spain, and her fame, already prodigious, rose to the pinnacle with a triumphant performance. The bond between author and actress combined mutual respect and appreciation, a victorious professional relationship, unparalleled satisfaction for an adoring public, and a well–known, ongoing tryst, recounted with intimate details and frankness in the book My Erotic Life. Already the most renowned actress in France, Bernhardt toured England, Belgium, and Denmark with her own troupe in 1879 and 1880, then sailed to America, toured 51 cities, and returned to France with $194,000 in gold coin. Now the most famous actress in the Western world (the first superstar), she performed across the rest of Europe (except for Germany) then returned to Paris and shined there again. Other world tours followed, and she came home from one of them with 3 1/2 million francs. In 1893 she bought the Théâtre de la Renaissance where she performed and directed, sold it 1899 and leased a larger concert hall where she staged whatever struck her mood often playing male roles, and every time she wanted more money, she would do another tour. She injured her leg in a stunt leap on stage, had to have it amputated in 1915, weathered W. W. I., continued to perform, made a few films, and died in 1923, still the most acclaimed actress in the world. We have already said that she was the first superstar and so, she was, of course, the earliest born person awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses––and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” –Mark Twain.