2008.487.67 Alphonse Mucha
Cocorico, 1899, woodcut
Author: Margaret Borden
Alphonse Mucha is best known for his posters, such as this one, that often depicted the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Cocorico is a magazine cover, and the only image in it is that of a woman, outlined in black. There is no color, no background, just the woman. Mucha chose to portray only Bernhardt, who, at this time, symbolized the radical new possibilities that theatre presented for elaborating new forms of female identity.
Mucha uses thick, dark lines to define Bernhardt. This can be seen when looking at her arms and hands, which draw the eye to her face. Her arms make two diagonal lines coming to a point at her face, which is located in the middle of the magazine cover. Sarah Bernhardt is known for using her thin, pale beauty and her wits to succeed. It is very well known that characters she most successfully and most frequently represented on stage were not passive, innocent young girls, but femmes fatales, women who were perceived as sexually threatening. Her portrayal of these women were written about by many of her critics, in great detail. Writers noted that Bernhardt used her whole body to convey feelings. They often linked her seduction to danger, and compared her to a mythical Siren: fascinating, strange, and exotic. This persona is represented in the magazine cover.
Bernhardt favored this portrayal of herself. She used these images to garner the public’s attention and aid her rise towards fame. She also viewed these depictions as exactly what society needed at the time to accept the new emerging roles of empowered women. An independent, strong-willed woman who refused to conform to social norms Bernhardt launched her own theatrical company in 1880 and opened the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1899. A feminist nearly a decade before that term became popular, she was nonetheless a transitional figure who often played the binaries. Sarah Bernhardt was one of the most successful women of the nineteenth century, as shown in her skills as an actress and also as a theatre manager. Choosing to portray Bernhardt on the cover of this magazine, Mucha further established Bernhardt as a strong, talented role model for all women of the time.