Star of some of the most popular French plays of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and some of the earliest moving picture films, she was also high priestess of the Art Nouveau movement and paramour to a succession of rich and famous men.
On June 9 Dix Noonan Webb (25% buyer’s premium) offered six items of silver and jewellery that came from her great-great granddaughter. Estimated at between £70 to £500 each they sold collectively for around £8000.
Bernhardt’s motto was quand même, a versatile French phrase (often translating as ‘no matter what’, ‘even so’ or ‘anyway’) that was flown from a flag at the fort she bought on Belle-Isle off the coast of Brittany as a summer house. Quand même was also engraved to a French silver-gilt dressing table jar and cover that carried Bernhardt’s personal crest and the initials SB.
Pitched at £150-£200 – perhaps twice its value as a relatively ordinary example of late 19th century silversmithing – it instead made £3200.
Key to the regular retelling of the Bernhardt story is her private life. The illegitimate daughter of a Dutch courtesan who worked the upper echelons of Paris society, she too had enjoyed a succession of liaisons with influential men, including Edward Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.
Estimated at £400-600 but sold at £2400 was a French bloomed gold oval locket pendant set with emerald and old-cut diamond clusters and enamelled in black. Inside was a small lock of blond hair from Bernhardt’s only child, Maurice Bernhardt (1864-1923) whose father was the Belgian aristocrat Henri, Prince de Ligne (1824-71). At the time of their affair Bernhardt was an unknown and a contract with the French national theatre had been cancelled after she slapped the face of a leading actress.
An Edwardian gold enamel and diamond locket inscribed to the reverse SB 9 Juillet 1908 dated from a much later moment in her career. It was one of the many gifts showered on her during a 20-day summer tour of 16 cities in Britain and Ireland. There was damage to both the blue and bordering white enamel, but it took £1100 (estimate £200-300).