In the privacy of her home or in the theatre, Sarah Bernhardt made her life into a spectacle at the service of her talent.
To achieve this, she managed to inspire the admiring complicity of painters, sculptor, photographers and poster designers, who depicted the many facets of her role as a Diva. The painter Clairin, who was her lover and then a loyal friend, remained the official portraitist of his illustrious muse for fifty years.
At the 1876 Salon, all the press noticed the Portrait of Mlle Sarah Bernhardt, Member of the Comédie Française. The singular beauty of this rising star of the French theatre did not fail to move the Parisian critics, who either deplored or admired the slender, sinuous figure painted by Clairin. The 32-year-old actress was enjoying her first triumphs in the plays of Racine and Hugo at the time. As a sign of her social ascent, she had just moved into her new mansion near to Monceau Park, the bohemian splendour of which is depicted in this painting.
This large portrait showing the subject in a white satin dress, with a very studied nonchalance, was one of Sarah Bernhardt’s favourites and she kept it all her life. In 1876 it heralded the Art Nouveau aesthetic, with its sinuous lines, pearlescent tones and the magnetism of a feminine presence that is both seductive and disquieting. When his mother died, Maurice Bernhardt donated it to the Petit Palais, where it keeps the myth of this great actress alive.