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“Après la tempête (After the Storm)” depicts a Breton peasant woman cradling the body of her grandson who had been caught in a fisherman’s nets. Sarah Bernhardt had seen this woman on the seashore and was moved by her story, which ended tragically with the death of the child. But in Bernhardt’s sculpture the the child’s right hand grips the woman’s garment, perhaps suggesting the possibility of a more hopeful ending.

The artist allegedly took anatomy lessons specifically to convey the intensity of the subject. Her ability to render textures from smooth skin to rough nets adds to the naturalism of the piece. Bernhardt’s arrangement of the figures suggests her knowledge  of works such as Michelangelo's “Pieta,” in which the Virgin Mary supports the dead Christ on her lap.

When the large original plaster cast for this work was exhibited at the Salon in 1876, it won a silver medal. Two years later, the artist sold the rights to reproduce “Après la tempête” to the dealer Henri Gambard, who appears to have commissioned very few duplicates. The sculpture in NMWA’s collection seems to be unique and may in fact be the one that was sold in the artist’s estate sale in 1923, as no other marble versions are documented.

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  • Title: After the Storm
  • Creator: Sarah Bernhardt
  • Date: ca. 1876
  • artist profile: Sarah Bernhardt established her name in France as one of the most famous actresses of the 19th-century stage. Less well known is her skill as a sculptor. Her debut in Racine’s tragedy “Iphigénie” cemented her importance as a stage actress and launched what would become a 60-year career and a pan-European reputation as “the Divine Sarah.” While acting, Bernhardt began studying sculpture with Mathieu Meusnier and Emilio Franchesci and became passionately devoted to the art. By 1874, she was exhibiting her work at the Paris Salon, which she continued to do until 1886. Exhibitions of the artist’s sculpture were held in London, New York, and Philadelphia. Bernhardt participated in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Bernhardt excelled at modeling and shaping, and the majority of her sculptures are portrait busts, though she also made smaller “objets de vertu” (objects of virtue). Fifty of her artworks have been documented. Passionate about all forms of art, Bernhardt also painted, designed dresses, directed a theater company, and supervised the sets and costumes for her productions.
  • Physical Dimensions: w24 x h29.5 x d23 in
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: White marble
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibition: “Four Centuries of Women’s Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts,” 1990–91
  • Foreign Title: Après la tempête

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