Louise Abbema
Sarah Bernhardt Hunting with Hounds
Circa 1897

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Louise Abbéma
1858-1927 French

Sarah Bernhardt Hunting with Hounds (Diane)

Signed "Louise Abbema" (upper left)
Oil on canvas

This painting was illustrated in the catalogue of the 1907 Salon of the Société des Artistes Français on page 43. A very similar portrait by Abbéma was shown at the Paris Salon of 1907 under the title Diane. A preparatory study was auctioned in 1992 under the title Portrait de Mlle Delettrez en habit de l'équipage du Prince de la Tour d'Auvergne.

This elegant Belle Époque portrait is the work of celebrated artist, sculptor and designer Louise Abbéma. Almost certainly depicting legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, this magnificent oil on canvas captures the iconic actress in a stately riding habit before a hunt. One of the most successful women artists of her day, Abbéma was also an engraver, watercolorist, draughtswoman, illustrator and writer. She enjoyed an extremely close friendship with Bernhardt for many years, and eventually became the great thespian's official portraitist.

A painter in the Impressionist style, Abbéma is known for her allegorical paintings and genre scenes, and especially for her portraits of society ladies, interiors and a myriad of floral works. Born in Etampes, France, the great-granddaughter of actress Mlle. Contat and Comte Louis de Narbonne, she had an early introduction to the arts through her aristocratic family and was greatly influenced by painter Rosa Bonheur. At a time when it was still unusual for a woman to be accepted into art academies, she became a pupil of Charles Chaplin in 1873, Carolus-Duran the following year, and, later, Jean-Jacques Henner.

In 1876, at the age of 18, Abbéma painted a portrait of Bernhardt, whom she met five years earlier, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon des Artistes Français of 1876 (at Carolus-Duran's suggestion, she had begun showing work in the Salon the previous year.) Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt was an immediate success for the young painter (only 22 at the time). She continued to exhibit regularly at the Salon until 1926, gaining an honorable recommendation in 1881 and a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Soon after this triumph, Abbéma created a bronze medallion of Bernhardt (the only known sculpture by her), which she exhibited at the Salon in 1878. In turn Bernhardt, herself a sometime sculptor, exhibited a marble bust of Abbéma at the same Salon. Abbéma later made drawings of both sculptures.

Abbéma went on to pursue a brilliant career as a society portrait painter, depicting the celebrities of the age, her former teachers, Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opéra, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Don Pedro the Emperor of Brazil, among many others. One of her most esteemed works is the painting Déjeuner dans la serre, depicting a sumptuous lunch given by Mlle. Bernhardt, which fully displays her Impressionist affinities. Many of her works also showed the influence of Chinese and Japanese painters, as well as contemporary masters such as Édouard Manet.

Particularly known for her portraits of the leading ladies of the high society of her era, Abbéma also painted allegorical figures and many decorative murals for the town halls of the 7th, 10th and 20th arrondissements of Paris, the Hôtel de Ville, the Musée d'Armée, the French National Horticultural Society, the former Sarah Bernhardt Theatre and the palace of the governor of Dakar, Senegal. She was even designated an Official Painter of the Third Republic, and also exhibited work in the Women's Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She worked for several art magazines, including the journals Gazette des Beaux-Arts and L'Art, and illustrated Rene Maizeroy's La Mer.

She was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1906.

Circa 1897

Canvas: 33 1/2" high x 24" wide
Frame: 42 3/8" high x 33 1/8" wide

Artist's Museums:
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Musée de Pau, France

Dictionary of Artists, Vol. 1, 2006, E. Benezit


  • Artist
    Louise Abbema (1853-1927, French)
  • Creation Year
    Circa 1897
  • Condition
  • Dimensions
    42.38 in. H x 33.13 in. W x 1 in. D
  • Seller Location
    New Orleans, LA
  • Reference Number
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