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Diva Image #6 Sarah Bernhardt
by David for group historicalziegfeld Oct 25, 2010

The passionate French actress Sarah Bernhardt earned a reputation in the 1870s as the most incendiary presence on the stage of her generation. She was photographed frequently over the course of her career and demonstrated an extraordinary plasticity of pose before the lens. The two production stills by Joseph Byron ending the series below show the extent to which her recumbent postures were to her expression. But the amputation of Bernhardt's leg in 1915 forced her to alter her posture on stage and in the studio. From September 1 to 15, 1917 Bernhardt performed her repertoire of plays on Broadway. During this season she went to the studio of L. B. Rochlitz for publicity images. Her prosthetic leg prevented her from deviating much from vertical. Yet her animation before her prop chair shows her projecting Diva image despite her handicap. Bernhardt had become smitten with Rochlitz's portraiture after a sitting of 1913 when she posed on a bed in scenes from La dame aux camelias. These images became so famous that they were parodied by any number of actresses (see the Edna Wallace Hopper one in the photo essay on her). Not much is known about Rochlitz. He had worked in the latter part of the 19th century in the studio of O.S. Wheeler, taking the studio over earlly in the second decade of the 20th century. His heyday as a portrait artist lasted approximately a decade, before drifting into obscurity. He did however as an old man teach film director Preston Sturgess all he needed to know about lighting and capturing images. David S Shields

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