The Lady of the Camellias

The Lady of the Camellias

  • Portrait of Alphonsine known as Marie Duplessis (the Lady of the Camellias), seated on the balcony of a theater, 1845

    ROQUEPLAN Camille (1803 - 1855)

  • La Dame aux camélias performed by Mrs. Sarah Bernhardt and her company

    KASTOR Robert

To close

Title: Portrait of Alphonsine known as Marie Duplessis (the Lady of the Camellias), seated on the balcony of a theater, 1845

Author : ROQUEPLAN Camille (1803 - 1855)

Creation date : 1845

Date shown: 1845

Dimensions: Height 24 cm - Width 18.2 cm

Technique and other indications: watercolor

Storage location: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais / Bulloz agency

Picture reference: 09-538582 / CARD02308

Portrait of Alphonsine known as Marie Duplessis (the Lady of the Camellias), seated on the balcony of a theater, 1845

© RMN - Grand Palais / Bulloz agency

To close

Title: La Dame aux camélias performed by Mrs. Sarah Bernhardt and her company

Author : KASTOR Robert (-)

Creation date : 1911

Date shown: 1911

Technique and other indications: cinematograph poster: "For the first time in La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, the son of the Académie française. Performed by Mrs. Sarah Bernhardt and her company ”

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © BNF, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BNF image

Picture reference: 12-564800 / AFF 58061

La Dame aux camélias performed by Mrs. Sarah Bernhardt and her company

© BNF, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BNF image

Publication date: January 2016

Historical context

Marie Duplessis, muse of Dumas

This watercolor drawing by Camille Roqueplan represents Marie Duplessis, who was probably the very first great courtesan of the 19th century.e century. However, she suffered from a breast disease, phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis), which had a venereal connotation in the 19th century.e century. Marie Duplessis died on February 3, 1847, at only 23 years old.

However, it is precisely the dazzling nature of his destiny that marked the spirits and made it pass to posterity. When Alexandre Dumas fils learned of the courtesan's death on February 10, 1847, he went to the auction of the possessions of the woman he had loved and found souvenirs in her apartment. Their affair then inspired the novel The Lady of the Camellias, written only ten months after the disappearance of the young woman. Marie Duplessis thus played the role of muse and nourishes the creation of the character of Marguerite Gautier, while her lover, Armand Duval, is a mixture of Alexandre Dumas fils himself and Count Édouard de Perrégaux, lover then husband of Marie Duplessis.

The second document is a cinematograph poster illustrated by printmaker Robert Kastor. Dated 1911, it represents the great tragedian Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Marguerite Gautier, known as the Lady of the Camellias.

Image Analysis

From Marie to Sarah

In the first document, Marie Duplessis, in the foreground, sits alone in her theater box, equipped with binoculars, in the posture of a queen of the July monarchy. She appears as an honorable and elegant woman, an authentic lover of the theater.

According to Alexandre Dumas fils, “his face forms an oval of indescribable grace. The dark eyes, topped with eyebrows whose arches are so pure that they seem painted, are veiled with long lashes that drop down casting a shadow on the rosy tint of the cheeks. The fine nose is straight and spiritual. The slightly open nostrils demonstrate an ardent aspiration towards the sensual life ”.

Marie Duplessis is surrounded by boxes from which dandies seem to admire her, while behind her, young girls adorned with hairstyles, hats and costumes characteristic of the Romantic era observe the men with curiosity. Marie Duplessis appreciated cultural evenings, major exhibitions, concerts, and above all seemed to have nurtured a real passion for the theater. She rarely missed the premieres and spent her very last night there.

The second document presents Sarah Bernhardt leaning on a table, on which is arranged a beautiful garland of camellia flowers. The actress had already performed in the theater the role of Marguerite Gautier, with whom she fully identified, in 1880, after breaking with the Comédie-Française. She was then only 36 years old and had met with immense success. She was 67 when the film was released The Lady of the Camellias, his first feature film, produced by the company Le Film d'Art and directed by André Calmettes and Henri Pouctal. The ad of the period read: "Soon the greatest artist of the time, Mrs. Sarah Bernhardt, for the first time in cinematography. Sarah Bernhardt had already been a pioneer in the field of cinema by presenting the Phono-cinema-theater, a reflection on talking cinema which combined projection and phonograph, during the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The film was a triumph in Paris and in America, the actress realizing that she could now reach audiences much larger than that of the theater. In an interview repeated in the Cinematographic Mail, she declares: “The theater and the cinema can very well live side by side. And here's the proof: I remember that in a recent tour that I did in America with The Lady of the Camellias, our company was followed by a film company. Everywhere I stopped, and frequently in a room next to the one where I was playing, the cinema also gave The Lady of the Camellias. It even happened that the two posters touched. However, in the evening, the two rooms were full: but in one one paid 15 or 20 sous and in the other 15 or 20 francs. "


The myth of the virtuous courtesan

Alexandre Dumas fils, with the character of Marguerite Gautier, completely transforms Marie Duplessis. He gave birth to an ideal courtesan, the one dreamed of by men and society in the XIXe century, a courtesan become moral and repentant. Her early and painful death redeems her life, and Marguerite Gautier thus embodies the purified, virtuous, big-hearted courtesan.

The novel was then adapted for the stage and performed at the Théâtre du Vaudeville on February 2, 1852, before inspiring Giuseppe Verdi to play the character of Violetta in La Traviata, created on March 6, 1853 at La Fenice in Venice. Gradually, the myth eclipsed reality, and Marie Duplessis becomes this martyr character who sacrifices herself for love. We find sublime incarnations of it in theater and cinema, notably by Sarah Bernhardt, whose acting later inspired Maria Callas in a staging of La Traviata signed Luchino Visconti at La Scala in Milan on May 28, 1955.

  • prostitution
  • popular imagery
  • courtesan
  • city
  • women
  • Bernhardt (Sarah)


AUTHIER Catherine, Exceptional Women, Women of Influence: A History of 19th Century Courtesans, Paris, Armand Colin, 2015.BOUDET Micheline, The Flower of Evil: the true story of the Lady of the Camellias, Paris, Albin Michel, 1993.DUMAS Alexandre fils, La Dame aux camélias: play in five acts, melee song, Paris, D. Giraud and J. Dagneau, 1852.

To cite this article

Catherine AUTHIER, "The Lady of the Camellias"

Video: THE LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS. Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema. Feb 4