Bernhardt, Sarah. (1844-1923)
Large Signed Photograph with Crucifix
Large original Sarony of NY photograph, boldly signed in fountain pen and inscribed "Souvenir le plus Sympathique et le plus affectueux / Sarah Bernhardt, 1906 [possibly instead 1896]." 8.3 x 11.6 inches. Heavily chipped and cracked along the right edge with surface losses and upper right corner perished, most of which could be matted out of view for presentation. Despite these faults, this is undoubtedly one of the finest and most unusual signed photographs of Bernhardt we have encountered.
An extraordinary image of the great actress in Leah, an adaptation of the hugely popular 1849 Deborah, by German author Salomon Hermann Mosenthal, that inspired scores of translations and adaptations on both continents, as well as three silent films in the 1900’s, and which became a star vehicle for leading ladies of the age. In his hugely popular 1862 melodrama, Leah, the Forsaken, Augustin Daly tells a tale of love between a citizen and an outsider, of betrayal provoked by deception, of the wrath of the betrayed, and of wholly unexpected redemption. In the early 1700’s, Jewish refugee Leah, fleeing persecution in Hungary, falls in love with Rudolf, a villager in Austria, where Jews are forbidden to pass a single night. Vowing eternal devotion, they plan to flee to America, a free land where they “shall teach love and brotherhood to all men.” In 1862, at the birth of the Civil War, defiance of communal prejudice for a greater communal good held a strong appeal to a liberal audience, and indeed, President Lincoln saw the play in 1865. Later revivals of the play enjoyed signal success at times when questions of refugee status were prominent in public discussion, as in 1890, when Sarah Bernhardt toured her version of the play in the US.