Dylan Brekka at the Petit Palais, Paris, studying Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt (1876) by Georges Clairin (1843–1919).

My recent trip to Paris, France, for research into the topic of my Qualifying Paper— George Clairin’s Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt, proved to be incredibly educational and fruitful. During the course of my days in the city, I had the opportunity to visit the collections of several museums and archives including the Comédie Française, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Petit Palais. In particular, it was the archives at the Musée d’Orsay that proved to be the most useful in the formulation of my QP. At the museum, I was able to look at the files held on Georges Clairin, Sarah Bernhardt, as well as Carolus-Duran, who painted a portrait housed at the museum that I have used as a comparative piece in my writing. I was very pleased to find out that the Musée d’Orsay has an entire file on the images painted by Clairin of Bernhardt. While the portrait I am researching is certainly his most famous example, it is only one of many he created throughout the years.

The Musée d’Orsay’s archives contained information on every known image he painted that may have featured the actress, including pieces that were sold at auction over the past fifty years, which are now housed in private collections. This particular file contained information on a pair of allegorical images painted by Clairin soon after the image I am researching, depicting Bernhardt in the same dress she wore in her portrait. Additionally, I learned of two later paintings of the actress, one self-portrait and another by the artist Bastien LePage, that show Bernhardt wearing a similar style of dress as the one she wore in the Clairin portrait. If I had not gained access to this archive, it is likely I never would have learned about these images, as they all have been in private collections for the past several decades and have not been digitized in any way.

And, of course, this trip allowed me to finally visit the portrait itself. After almost a year of research, I was beyond thrilled to see her in person.

—Dylan Brekka, MA student