Sarah Bernhardt  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sarah Bernhardt (October 23, 1844March 26, 1923) was a stage actress born in Paris. Often referred to as "the most famous actress in the history of the world," she made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the United States. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the nickname "The Divine Sarah."

Social life, marriages and relationships

Bernhardt had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph Eugène Henri, Prince de Ligne, with whom she had her only child, Maurice Bernhardt, in 1864 (he married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska, 1863-1914) (see Jablonowski). Later, close friends included several artists, most notably Gustave Doré and Georges Clarin, and actors Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen, as well as the famous French writer Victor Hugo. Alphonse Mucha based several of his iconic Art Nouveau works on her. Her friendship with Louise Abbema, a French impressionist painter fourteen years her junior, was so close and passionate that the two women were rumored to be lovers.

She later married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala (known in France as Jacques Damala) in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala's death in 1889 at age 34, quickly collapsed, largely due to Damala's dependence on morphine. During the latter years of this marriage, Bernhardt was said to have been involved in an affair with the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII. Bernhardt was not known to be a religious person, and once stated, "Me pray? Never! I'm an atheist."

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