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
(circa 1892-circa 1893)
43.2 x 40.6 x 2.2 cm
Signature & date
Signed l.l. corner, incised "Bertram Mackennal". Not dated
Bequest of Mrs J.R. McGregor 1944
Shown in 7 exhibitions
Twenty-fourth exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, International Society of Scupltors, Painters and Gravers, Jan 1907–Mar 1907
Exhibition of bronzes by Sir Bertram Mackennal K.C.V.O, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 07 Oct 1926–20 Oct 1926
Early Australian scupture: from its beginnings up to circa 1920, Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat, 15 Mar 1977
Australian sculpture 1890-1919, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Jan 1987–22 Feb 1987
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
Presence and absence: portrait sculpture in Australia, National Portrait Gallery [Old Parliament House], Canberra, 22 Aug 2003–16 Nov 2003
Referenced in 18 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 88 (colour illus.).
Deborah Edwards, Bertram Mackennal: Catalogue raisonné, Sydney, 2007, (colour illus.). Artworks: Sculpture: 1890s
Deborah Edwards, Presence & absence: portrait sculpture in Australia, Canberra, 2003, 42, 44 (colour illus.), 46, 82. cat.no. 50
Deborah Edwards., Australian sculpture 1890-1919, 'Australian sculpture 1890-1919', Sydney, 1987. no catalogue numbers
Corille Fraser, Come to Dazzle - Sarah Bernhardt's Australian Tour, Strawberry Hills, 1998, 138, 340 (illus.).
Peter Haynes (Compilator), Famous people: a selective who's who from works in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1981, 2 (illus.).
International Society of Scupltors, Painters and Gravers, A catalogue of the pictures & sculpture in the seventh exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters & Gravers., London, 1907. cat.no. 273
Lionel Lindsay, 150 years of Australian art, Sydney, 1938. cat.no. 172
Meri Machin-Roberts, Bertram Mackennal: the fifth Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project, 'Portraits of contrived publicity: Betram Mackennal's commissions from Sarah Bernhardt', pg. 164-167, Sydney, 2007, 52, 54, 110, 164 (colour illus., detail), 165 (colour illus.).
Macquarie Galleries, Exhibition of bronzes by Sir Bertram Mackennal K.C.V.O, Sydney, 1926. cat.no. 38; titled 'Relief - Sara [sic] Bernhardt'; priced NFS
Denise Mimmocchi, Australian Symbolism: the art of dreams, ‘Sarah Bernhardt: the ‘serpent of the old Nile’’, pg. 35-40, Sydney, 2012, 38, 39 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 23 (illus.).
Ursula Prunster, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Home and abroad', pg. 73-74, Sydney, 2000, 90 (colour illus.), 301.
Ken Scarlett, Australian Sculptors, Melbourne, 1980, 404 (illus.).
Daniel Thomas, Art and Australia, 'Australian collection', pg. 52-62, Sydney, Jul 1972, 60 (illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), 1890s: aspects of the gallery, 'The influence of Sarah Bernhardt's Australian Tour', Sydney, 1986, (illus.).
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Sydney, 2000.