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Specified lots (sold and unsold) marked with a fil… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE LATE GLORIA, DOWAGER COUNTESS BATHURST (1927-2018)

Autoportrait en chimère, encrier (Self-portrait as a Chimera, inkwell)

Autoportrait en chimère, encrier (Self-portrait as a Chimera, inkwell)
Modelled as a recumbent winged sphinx with a spiny reptilian tail and the clawed limbs of a mythical beast, clutching an open bowl with massive ram's horns and set with a devil's head, the inkwell concealed beneath a removable cover in the form of a pile of books, a quill pen rest cast into her hair, signed 'SARAH BERNHARDT'
bronze, dark-brown patina
12 in. (30.5 cm.) high; 14 1/8 in. (36 cm.) wide; 12 ¼ in. (31 cm.) deep
Circa 1879.
Sarah Bernhardt (1845-1923), who gave it to
Sir Algernon Borthwick Bt. (1830-1908), later Lord Glenesk (cr. 1895), whose daughter and sole heiress,
Lilian Margaret Frances Borthwick married Seymour Bathurst, 7th Earl Bathurst in November 1893, and by descent.
Special notice
Specified lots (sold and unsold) marked with a filled square ( ¦ ) not collected from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London SW1Y 6QT by 5.00pm on the day of the sale will, at our option, be removed to Crozier Park Royal (details below). Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite.If the lot is transferred to Crozier Park Royal, it will be available for collection from 12.00pm on the second business day following the sale.Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crozier Park Royal. All collections from Crozier Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only.Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: the lot remains at Christie’s, 8 King Street, it will be available for collection on any working day (not weekends) from 9.00am to 5.00pm

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This fantastical inkwell is a self-portrait of the great actor and artist Sarah Bernhardt in the form of a chimera or sphinx. She is thought to have sculpted it in 1879 when rehearsing for the role of Blanche de Chelles, the mysterious and demonic heroine of Octave Feuillet's play ‘Le Sphinx', and it was exhibited that same year in London, at 33 Piccadilly, and the following year in at the Union League Club, New York. A bronze edition was made by Thiébaut frères and other examples exist, but the present lot and another in the Royal Collection, are the only versions known without the Thiébaut foundry mark suggesting that this is a supremely rare early épreuve dartiste - its casting in bronze overseen by Bernhardt herself. Furthermore the present lot is provenanced as a gift from Sarah Bernhardt to Sir Algernon Borthwick, later Lord Glenesk, and comes by direct descent to be offered here for the first time in its history.

Autoportrait en chimère is believed to be a personal self-reflection of the artist. Here, the strong symbolist influence of this sculpture is a departure from Bernhardt's more conventional or Romantic subjects. It illustrates not only her certain knowledge of the work of such artists as Auguste Moreau and Gustave Doré, but also more directly her own life. The inkwell appears to have been conceived on one level as a celebration of her role in Feuillet's play, and on a deeper level as an evocation of what Bernhardt perceived herself to be. As the critic Jules Lemaître described her ‘... [she is] a distant and chimerical creature, both hieratic and serpentine, with a lure both mystical and sensual’.

In the summer of 1879 Bernhardt toured to London giving a triumphant performance of Racine’s dramatic tragedy Phèdre and began her rise as an international star. A private exhibition of Bernhardt’s painting and sculpture was organised at 33 Piccadilly, where the inkwell Autoportrait en chimère was shown. The exhibition was attended by Sir Frederic Leighton, Sir John Everett Millais, William Gladstone and the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). In London, Bernhardt also gave private recitals, including at home for the newspaper proprietor Sir Algernon Borthwick (later Lord Glenesk) who had likely already met Bernhardt when he worked in Paris as the French correspondent for his father’s paper The Morning Post. The following year a French periodical records that ‘Mlle Sarah Bernhardt, upon her return from Brussels, held a dinner last night at avenue de Villiers along with her friends and Sir Algernon Borthwick… Sarah’s small hôtel was brilliantly lit, as was the large studio in which a small and intimate soirée was held.’ (Gil Blas, 13 August 1880, p. 1).

Bernhardt presented her self-portrait inkwells to friends and patrons and this example was perhaps a gift of thanks for Sir Algernon Borthwick’s support. The pre-eminence of the present lot as an early, or first, bronze cast is corroborated by the absence of the Thiébaut Frères foundry inscription, as the only other known example without the foundry inscription is in the Royal Collection (RCIN 7275), and was almost certainly a gift to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) who also greatly admired Bernhardt and did much to facilitate her introduction to London society. It is likely therefore that Sir Algernon and the Prince of Wales were given their respective inkwells in 1879/80 placing them as early épreuves dartiste and predating the Thiébaut Frères foundry edition.

The tinted plaster is at the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (S 3375). Subsequent to the present lot and the Royal Collection version there was a bronze edition of the same size cast by the Thiébaut Frères foundry, as well as a smaller reduction of the model. Known examples of the bronze edition have the foundry inscription 'Thiébaut frères – Fondeurs – Paris' and are inscribed ‘1880’:
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv. 1973.551a-d), acquired in 1973.
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (99.24a-c).
- Christie's, London, 2 May 1996, lot 145.
- Christie's, London, 23 September 2010, lot 318.

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