Paris 1844 - Paris 1923

Maker: Thiébaut

Encrier Fantastique (Autoportrait en sphinx)

Fantastic Inkwell (Self-Portrait as a Sphinx)



type: other

Dimensions (HxWxD): 12 12 x 7 12 x 9 in.

top of base, proper left: SARAH-BERNHARDT
side of base, proper left: 1880
proper right edge of base: THIEBAUT FRERES / FONDEURS / PARIS

Acc. No.: 1973.551a-d

Credit Line: Helen and Alice Colburn Fund

Photo credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

© Artist : public domain


  • 1880, possibly with the artist and exhibited at the Union League Club, New York (as suggested by Judith Applegate, MFA Bulletin 73, no. 369 (1975): 37, the MFA inkwell may be the third cast made, exhibited in New York in 1880. See "Sarah Bernhardt Souvenir, Including The Authorized Catalogue of Her Paintings and Sculpture" (New York, 1880), cat. no. 18)
  • importer on Long Island (In a letter to the MFA (October 9, 1973), Shepherd Gallery indicated that the inkwell was purchased "from an importer on Long Island who gave us no significant provenance on the piece.")
  • 1973, New York, Shepherd Gallery
  • 1973, November 14, sold by the Shepherd Gallery to the MFA


  • Museum's website, 23 February 2012 and 20 March 2012
  • 1975 Applegate
    Judith Applegate, Boston Museum Bulletin, vol. LXXIII, no. 369, 1975, p. 36-37, repr.
  • 2008 Oklahoma
    Paris 1900, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 2008, p. 47, repr.


  • 1973 New York
    Western European Bronzes of the 19th Century, New York, Shepherd Gallery, 1973

    1980-1981 Los Angeles/Minneapolis/Detroit/Indianapolis
    The Romantics to Rodin. French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture from North American Collections, Organized and edited by Peter Fusco & Horst W. Janson, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, March 4-May 25, 1980; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, June 25-September 21, 1980; The Detroit Institute of Arts, October 27, 1980-January 4, 1981; Indianapolis Museum of Art, February 22-April 29, 1981, no. 28, p. 141-143, 142, repr.

    1987 Grinnell
    A View of Her Own: Images of Women by Women Artists, Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA, October 2-31, 1987, no. 5, p. 17, repr.

    2000-2001 Washington/London
    Art Nouveau, 1890-1914: Sources and Cities, Washington, National Gallery of art, September 30, 2000-January 28, 2001; London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2001, no. 117, p. 458, repr.

    2005-2006 New York
    Sarah Bernhardt - the Art of High Drama, New York, Jewish Museum, December 2, 2005-April 2, 2006, p. 50, repr.

    2006-2007 Nagoya
    Five Centuries of European Portraiture, Nagoya/Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, September 16, 2006-February 4, 2007

Related works

  • Other bronze exemples:
    - London, Ferrers Gallery,
    - London, collection of the Queen Mother Mary,
    - Richmond, VA, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


  • Museum's label text, 2011:
    Although primarily known for her illustrious acting career, Sarah Bernhardt was an accomplished artist. "La Divine Sarah" was encouraged in her painting and sculpture by such eminent artists as Alfred Stevens and Gustave Doré. A departure from her other more academic sculpture, this unusual self portrait has affinities with Symbolist painting of the day. In 1879 Bernhardt was rehearsing for the role of Blanche de Chelles in Octave Feuillet's play Le Sphinx which may have influenced the theme of this work. The rendering of a part woman, part animal is reminiscent of art nouveau jewellery by René Lalique whom she patronized.