Furious Sarah – Style – Russia’s News

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“Against all odds” – this phrase led Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) through life. The roles that she resolutely played on stage are innumerable, and there are even more legends that envelop her life. The exhibition “And a Woman Created a Star” tells about them in the Petit Palais in Paris, timed to coincide with the centenary of the death of Sarah Bernhardt.

Hereditary courtesan

The exhibition begins literally from the cradle. Sarah’s mother Judith was a demi-monde, as they called courtesans, singers, dancers in France of the 19th century, who lived at the expense of wealthy patrons. In order not to change the course of life, she sent the eldest of three daughters away from Paris. First to a nanny, then to a Catholic school. Sarah despised Puritanism, sent church mentors to hell. Returning to Paris, the girl followed in the footsteps of her mother. The exhibition contains a curious document: a storehouse book of police officers who followed the courtesans, including the women of the Bernard family. Their whole life was taken on a pencil. Who came, what they brought – everything is written down. One of the men who played a decisive role in the fate of Sarah Bernhardt is Duke Charles de Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III. He came up with the idea of ​​sending the obstinate girl to the conservatory, and then he patted for her at the Comedie Francaise theater. However, her first stay there did not last long: the young actress quarreled with a venerable sosieter (the most prestigious status in the Comedie Francaise), slapped her in the face and did not want to apologize.

“Mademoiselle Riot”

From the first appearances on stage, critics noted the aplomb and melodious, gentle voice of Sarah, which Victor Hugo dubbed “golden”. However, now, listening to the recordings that have come down to us, it is difficult to imagine that this crackling voice could charm anyone. The contrast was the manner of her game on the rupture of the aorta. “Divine” Bernard was famous for the scenes of agony. Theatrical tales say that unlucky stage drivers sometimes forgot to put a mattress on it, and in the finale of Tosca, one of her crowning parties, the actress rushed onto the bare stage, sparing neither herself nor her knees.

A whole gallery in the exhibition is devoted to her iconic roles: the Byzantine empress Theodora (aka Theodora in the drama of the same name), written for her in 1884 by playwright Victorien Sardou. Passionate intrigue – husband, wife, lover, political background, rich scenery inspired by the Basilica of St. Vitale in Ravenna, dozens of dresses that she changed every exit – all this brought the performance an incredible success. “The Lady of the Camellias” by Dumas is another hallmark of Bernard. She always knew that, if there was any stage failure, there was always a courtesan Marguerite Gauthier, who would bring her a full box office. On the wave of patriotism after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, interest in Joan of Arc woke up. Having played the role of the Maiden of Orleans, Sarah Bernhardt received the status of an icon. Travesty roles were not alien to her. However, for the XIX century it was a matter of habit. Her first success was in the role of the minstrel Zanetto – a servant boy, a poet-musician from the comedy “Passer-by” by Francois Coppé. But she played Hamlet of the first actresses – however, in the cinema, then still silent. In her book The Art of Theatre: Voice, Gesture, Pronunciation, the actress explained that the choice of male roles allowed her to interpret more interesting images than those assigned to the actresses.

Bernard did not want to drive herself into the framework. Her popularity grew, the diva’s habits grew stronger. In the “house of Molière” such habits were not liked as passion, since there is only one star – the theater. The curators tell the story of the parting of “Mademoiselle Bunt”, as she was dubbed, with the main French theater after the failure of the comedy “The Adventurer”, citing her own words: “This is my first failure in the Comedie Francaise. He will be the last.” The exhibition, however, omits one more story: the theater put up a bucking diva with damages of 100 thousand francs.

“Prevent Talent Accumulation!”

Her acting career and turbulent personal life have always been in the forefront, but very few people know Bernard as an artist and sculptor. It is emphasized by the curators of the exhibition, placing this chapter in the central hall. In the 1870s, Sarah Bernhardt was surrounded by artists: Gustave Dore, Alphonse Mucha, Jules-Bastien Lepage. She is a friend, lover, muse. But not a model: since she didn’t have time to pose, she sent the concierge to sit instead of herself.

In addition, Bernard always knew exactly what she needed. Therefore, she decided to stand behind the canvas herself, took lessons from the Belgian artist Alfred Stevens. She painted herself in the image of Pierrot, in her outrageous hat with a bat. But even more passion for her was sculpture. More than 70 of her works are known. In spite of everything, since 1875 Bernard regularly exhibited. The composition “After the Storm”, representing an old woman mourning her dead son (Bernard sculpted her based on Michelangelo’s Pieta), brought her public recognition and an order from Charles Garnier for the facade of the Monte Carlo Opera. Curious sculptural self-portraits. One of the most famous is in the form of a chimera fatal woman holding a skull in her hands to make it even scarier. Evil tongues did not miss the moment to prick the “divine”, they say, she is both a “Sweden and a reaper”. Emile Zola defended: “We must immediately pass a law to prevent the accumulation of talents!”

How to create a star

Instructions on this topic from the Bernard exhibition throws up at every turn. Outrageous, outrageous and again outrageous is the most effective secret of success. Her collection of exotic animals was legendary. It started in England. She left the Liverpool Zoo with six chameleons, two lynxes and a dog that everyone takes for a wolf. Then she brought animals from all over the world. Monkey, parrot, cheetah, boa constrictor, chameleons lived in her house. She did not like to deal with them – they died. Who by his death, and who not. The poor crocodile, they say, drank too much champagne. And the boa constrictor that woke up at the wrong time (the sellers promised that the reptile was full for three months in advance) received a bullet in the forehead. Excellent for the image of Bernard worked and her passion for mysticism. She slept in a coffin, learned roles there, lived surrounded by skulls (she also kept money behind them – the gendarmes carefully recorded all this).

An eccentric appearance is another trump card. “Am I to blame for being too thin? Why is my hair so plentiful? Bernard asked theatrically on the pages of her memoirs. The corset in size XXXS shown at the exhibition makes the heart contract and the stomach rumbles. Bernard was one of the first to become the “face of the brand”: cookies on the Fly poster, rice powder, on the Moet & Chandon fan, and Pullman provided her with a tour train adapted for dresses, animals, and servants, on which she traveled dozens of countries. At the end of the 19th century, the image of Sarah Bernhardt is everywhere, she is more than an actress. The title monstre sacree (“sacred monster”), which is now called anyone, Jean Cocteau came up with for Bernard. A pop star, an idol that fans want to pinch anything off: in display cases are a torn off heel and a piece of necklace found on fans. She introduced a fashion for autographs and gave them generously.

What is a star without politics? Active citizenship is another brand of Bernard. During the Franco-Prussian War, she organized a mobile military hospital, traveled half the world, but never performed in Germany. Together with Émile, Zola was a fierce defender of the Dreyfus affair, having sipped a lot of anti-Semitism herself – caustic caricatures at the exhibition are proof of this. Together with a group of volunteers in the First World War, she went to the front with performances and could not help but go on an American tour to try to break through the policy of isolationism. And all this after February 1915, when her right leg was amputated. (Injured knees, remember Tosca? Plus gangrene, age.) According to legend, Bernard sang the Marseillaise during the operation. Against all odds.

Maria Sidelnikova

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