Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Sarah Bernhardt:

An Inventory of Her Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Bernhardt, Sarah, 1844-1923
Title: Sarah Bernhardt Collection
Inclusive Dates: ca. 1860-1977
Bulk Dates: bulk 1880-1920
Extent: 8 document boxes, 1 scrapbook box, 2 oversize boxes, 3 oversize files (5.04 linear feet)
Abstract: The collection contains theatrical production materials, playscripts, translations, and theatrical performance photographs from over thirty of Bernhardt's productions, including l'Aiglon, Camille, and Phedre. Also present are personal photographs, postcards, clippings, a scrapbook, caricatures, advertisements, and artistic sketches of Bernhardt.
Access: Open for research

Acquisition: Compiled by staff from Albert Davis, Robert Downing, and Messmore Kendall Collections
Provenance The Sarah Bernhardt Collection was compiled from materials previously organized within the Theater Biography file and is now a discrete collection. A large portion of the materials are originally from the Albert Davis and Messmore Kendall Collections.
Processed by: Nicolette Schneider, 2003

Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin

Sarah Bernhardt, "The Divine Sarah," was born Henriette-Rosine Bernard in Paris, France, in 1844. She spent her life gracing the theatrical stages of the world with her interpretations of both classic and modern French drama. Following her education at the drama school of the Paris Conservatoire, Bernhardt made her theatrical debut on stage in an 1862 production of Racine's Iphigenie en Aulide. But it was not until her 1872 performance in Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas that she was recognized and established as a great theatrical actress of her time.
In 1880, Bernhardt began her long series of tours throughout Europe and America. She delighted audiences with her interpretations of characters in productions such as Adrienne Lecouvreur, Frou Frou, Hernani, Jeanne D'Arc, Phedre, and Theodora, to name just a few. Bernhardt also became one of the few female actors of the time to portray a lead male character. She did so in Hamlet and again as the Duc de Reichstadt in Rostand's l'Aiglon. She continued to tour America for the rest of her career, even announcing three separate "farewell" tours between the years 1905-1912. Despite all of the time she spent outside her home country, Bernhardt remained a loyal Frenchwoman. In 1914, she was presented the Legion of Honor award for her continued support of her country and its servicemen. After battling a threatening infection in 1915, Bernhardt lost a leg to amputation, but she still continued to pursue her love of acting and traveling. Her final tour through America lasted from the years 1916 to 1918 and then she returned home to France. Bernhardt continued to practice her craft until her death in 1923.
In addition to her traditional stage work, Bernhardt starred in several silent movies, including two of her better-known films, Queen Elizabeth and Camille in 1911. Aside from acting, Bernhardt was also known to be a gifted artist, sculptor, and writer. She edited and translated many of the plays in which she performed and wrote several novels. Her memoir, Ma double vie (My Double Life), originally published in 1907, is still being reprinted today.
Gold, Arthur. Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
"Sarah Henriette Rosine Bernhardt" in The Oxford Companion to the Theatre. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Skinner, Cornelia Otis. Madame Sarah. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.

The Sarah Bernhardt Collection, ca. 1860-1977 (bulk 1880-1920), contains theatrical production photographs, personal photographs, publicity stills, postcards, theater programs and playbills, clippings, and a scrapbook. Also present are several prints, caricatures, advertisements, and artistic sketches of Bernhardt. The collection is arranged in three series: I. Theater Productions, 1872-1920, II. Clippings and Scrapbook, 1879-1977, and III. Other Materials, 1860-1920. Materials in Series I are arranged alphabetically by title of production and then chronologically within each production; materials in Series II and Series III are arranged chronologically where appropriate.
The Theater Production series comprises the bulk of the collection and contains production photographs and theater playbills and programs for over thirty Bernhardt productions. Although the bulk of the production photographs are portrait styled cabinet card photographs, this series contains several photographs of Bernhardt performing on stage. Bernhardt's famous productions of l'Aiglon, Camille, and Phedre are especially well represented. Among the playbills and programs, there are several playscripts, translations, and other versions of plays which are specific to Bernhardt and carry her identification as "the only correct version of my plays translated and printed from my own promptbooks." There are also souvenir programs which contain information on multiple productions.
The Clippings series, while comprehensive during the span of Bernhardt's career with reviews, is very extensive throughout 1923, the year of her death.
The Other Materials series chiefly comprises personal photographs, some family and ceremonial photographs and various portraits, caricatures, advertisements, prints, and artistic sketches. Personalities represented with Bernhardt in the photographs include actress Lillie Langtry, playwright Victorien Sardou, theater mogul Martin Beck, escape artist Harry Houdini, and her manager William Connors. Also in this series is an Alphonse Mucha sketch of Bernhardt as Medea, a copy of a letter from Her Artistic Life, and several advertisements in which Bernhardt used her notoriety to sell various products.
Elsewhere in the Performing Arts Collection, Bernhardt materials can be found in the Poster Collection (which includes several Alphonse Mucha posters of Bernhardt), the Jed Mace Collection, and the B.J. Simmons & Co. Records. Other materials on Sarah Bernhardt can be found in the Ransom Center's Photography Collection and the Manuscripts Collection. The University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library also offers a substantial collection of Sarah Bernhardt images in their Philip H. Ward Collection of Theatrical Images.

The finding aid for the Sarah Bernhardt Collection is a conflation of the original inventory created in 2003, and of a small addition that was catalogued in 2006. The addition is described only in the Folder List, continuing the box and folder numbering sequence. The Scope and Contents note does not make reference to the addition.


Nadar, Paul, 1856-1939.
Sarony, Napoleon, 1821-1896.
Mucha, Alphonse Marie, 1860-1939.



Document Types

Cabinet photographs.
Theatre programs.