About the Artist


Sarah Bernhardt

(French actress, born October 22, 1844, Paris, France; died March 26, 1923, Paris, France)

Bernhardt, Sarah (1844-1923), French actress, one of the most famous in the history of the theater, known by an adoring public as “the Divine Sarah.” She was born Rosine Bernard in Paris on Oct. 23, 1844, an illegitimate child of mixed French-Dutch parentage and of partly Jewish descent. At the age of 13 she entered the drama school of the Paris Conservatoire. Her debut at the Theatre Français (later the Comedie Française) on Sept. 1, 1862, in Racine’s “Iphigenie en Aulide,” was greeted with only mild interest. She soon quarreled with the Comedie and left it for an unsuccessful attempt at burlesque.

Bernhardt’s reputation was established in 1869 by her appearance as Zanetto, the wandering minstrel in François Coppée’s “Le Passant,” and affirmed in 1872 by her triumph as the Queen in Victor Hugo’s “Ruy Blas.” Soon after this she returned to the Comedie Française, where she won further acclaim for her performances in Racine’s “Phedre” and Hugo’s “Hernani.” Bernhardt’s position as the greatest actress and one of the most magnetic personalities of her time was by now secure. She was eulogized for her voix d’or (golden voice) and for the scope and emotional power of her acting.


Bernhardt is often referred to as “the most famous actress the world has ever known.”


In 1880, after a triumphant season in London, she broke her contract with the Comedie Française and embarked upon an independent career with the first of six tours of America, returning to Europe for triumphs in England and Denmark. Her repertoire included “La Dame aux Camelias” by the younger Alexandre Dumas and “Frou-frou” by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy. She became manager of the Theatre de la Renaissance, which she opened with a performance of Jules Lemaitre’s “Les Rois.” In 1898 she sold her lease of this theater and bought the Theatre des Nations, which she renamed the Theatre Sarah-Bernhardt.