Sarah Bernhardt was a legendary actress and renowned tragedian. She inspired painters, sculptors, poster artists and photographers who all created innumerable images of her. The Petit Palais currently conserves her most famous portrait, painted by Clairin in 1876.

Sarah Bernhardt was passionate about sculpture which she took up in the early 1870s. She studied under the sculptors Mathieu Meunier and Franceschi and exhibited for the first time at the French Artists’ Salon in 1876. She was an excellent portrait sculptor, as demonstrated by the Bust of Victorien Sardou.  Her first attempts were fairly conventional, but her style rapidly evolved towards more free and original expression focussing on sinuous shapes inspired by nature. During her stays in Belle-Ile, she collected shells, fish and seaweed on the beach which she then cast in plaster. When she returned to Paris, she had casts made in bronze from impressions made on the Brittany coast. “It produces magnificent results,” she wrote, “real Japanese bronzes with strange and tormented shapes”.

The dagger-sculpture acquired on 4th December this year in a public sale is a unique piece that was given to the jeweller René Lalique by Sarah Bernhardt herself. It was exhibited at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 in the “Seaweed/ fish” display case containing the artist’s creations. Half object/half sculpture, the dagger has a strangely fascinating effect. Sarah demonstrates her perfect mastery of a difficult art and reveals a transcendent imagination.

D. M.

City of Paris municipal collection's website

City of Paris municipal collection's website

The online catalogue of the Petit Palais collections includes around 35,000 notes and is added to regularly. Some notes have minimal information; others are more detailed. They are illustrated or they will be shortly.

Access the catalogue of the Petit Palais collections
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Extern databases

Discover a selection of databases online presenting works from the Petit Palais or documents concerning the history of the museum's history.