After six years studying sculpture in Paris and London, Mackennal returned to Australia in 1888 to execute two commissions. He became the centre of controversy in Melbourne over the worthiness of his entry in a competition for a major bronze figure group to be placed outside the National Gallery of Victoria. Debate raged in the press and came to the attention of Sarah Bernhardt, then established as the world's greatest living actress. She recommended that Mackennal return to Paris as "he is buried alive here". Mackennal was to become good friends with Bernhardt, who toured Australia in 1891, and taking her advice he returned to Paris, where he completed her relief portrait in bronze.
Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000