Sarah Bernhardt as Phedre in Racine's Phaedra
Introduced in the 1860s, cabinet cards were studio-produced photographs mounted on cardstock. Inexpensive multiples offered for public sale, they often featured portraits of celebrities of the day–writers, musicians, actors–and were widely collected. Nadar's photograph of Sarah Bernhardt (French, 1844-1923) as Phèdre is from a collector's album of cabinet card portraits of Bernhardt by various photographers.
A famous actress in the late 1800s, the "Divine Sarah" was a brilliant self-promoter at a time when the basis of celebrity was shifting from the political figure to the theatrical performer. Bernhardt pioneered the use of new technologies to disseminate her image: she was one of the most photographed women in the world, and the first major stage actress to star in films. She made several recordings of famous theatrical dialogues including a reading from Racine's Phèdre at Thomas Edison's home.
A recognizable figure, Bernhardt–often depicted in theatrical costume–endorsed commercial products. Contemporary with this cabinet card, her image appeared on cigarette cards, an early form of product promotion. Advertisements as well as collectable ephemera, cigarette cards like cabinet cards, reinforced Bernhardt's image in popular culture.