The strong symbolist influence of this sculpture is a departure from Bernhardt's more conventional or Romantic subjects. It reflects not only her certain knowledge of the work of such artists as Auguste Moreau and Gustave Doré, but also more directly her own role at the time. In 1879, Bernhardt was rehearsing for the role of Blanche de Chelles in Octave Feuillet's play Le Sphinx, in which the mysterious and even demonic heroine wore a poison ring in the form of a sphinx, and with whom Bernhardt may well have identified. 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. The critic Jules Lemaître described her as "...a distant and chimerical creature, both hieratic and serpentine, with a lure both mystical and sensual". In the inkwell Bernhardt has portrayed herself in a potent and dangerous combination which is part woman, part bat, part gryphon and part sphinx; her professional persona is evoked by the masks of Comedy and Tragedy on either side, and a sense of the diabolical is given by the skull at the front. Thus inspired, Bernhardt is thought to have sculpted the model for the inkwell in 1879, for a cast was shown in London that year. In 1880 a cast was exhibited at the Union League Club of New York in an exhibition entitled 'Sarah Bernhardt Souvenir, including the Authorised Catalogue of Her Paintings and Sculptures'. Casts of this size are apparently rare. One is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, another is recorded as having been in the collection of the late Queen Mary, and one sold Christie's, London, 2 May 1996, lot 145 (£23,000).