First Night Design | The Divine Sarah

The Divine Sarah © First Night Vintage

The Divine Sarah © First Night Vintage

“Life begets life. Energy creates energy.  It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Throughout last week, I could be seen glued to the front door waiting for a small packet of vintage postcards from my favourite shop in Berlin, Bartko-Reher-OHG, to be pushed through the letterbox and land with a soft thud onto the doormat.  On Friday, it arrived and I couldn’t have been  happier for among the postcards I had bought was this beauty of The Divine Sarah, Sarah Bernhardt, the great French stage actress who lived long enough to appear in some very early silent films (see below).

Yes, ’tis she of the wooden leg who, in a great example of cross-gender casting, played Hamlet, wooden leg an’ all; she who used a coffin as a bed; she who was described as a notorious liar by  Alexandre Dumas, fils and who was once sacked from the Comédie-Française for slapping another actress round the face. She was also said to have had an affair with the Prince of Wales (Edward VII).

Sarah Bernhardt in Queen Elizabeth (1912)

I have no idea of the date of the photograph but it’s clear that my namesake was young at the time.  Since she was born in 1844, I don’t think I would be far wrong if I said it was taken in the late-1860s or early ’70s. Whether it was for a production or simply Mademoiselle Bernhardt at home is a tough call. To our modern eyes, she looks to be ‘in costume’ but that would be to forget that this was how those with money and a healthy social life dressed at the time.  If anyone can shed any light, please comment below as I would love to know more.

Sarah Bernhardt in Daniel (1921)

When I was young and fell in love with the theatre, I wanted to be the late-20th century equivalent of Ellen Terry, to whom I bear a slight resemblance when in profile. Short of that, it was going to be a British version of The Divine Sarah.  As it is, I have to be content with selling their charms!

Take care and keep laughing!


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