French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
around 1864 (8 5/16 x 6 3/8 in)
The extraordinary actress Sarah Bernhardt was about twenty when she posed for Nadar and had barely begun her long and phenomenally successful career. Nadar’s photograph was probably the first of innumerable images by painters, photographers, sculptors, and graphic artists. At a time when Nadar was preoccupied with ballooning and willing to leave most of the portrait work to studio assistants, Bernhardt drew him back into the studio to make touching images of her delicate face. Here he wrapped her with a great sweep of velvet that bared one shoulder but showed no more of her slender body, centering all attention on her head, which is seen nearly in profile.
The young woman with the supple shoulders and the golden voice became an incomparable and indomitable actress, famous first in France and then throughout the world for playing heroines-and heroes-in a wide variety of plays. Bernhardt’s celebrity and the enormous attention she attracted everywhere she went anticipated the phenomenon of late twentieth-century media stars.