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18th-19th century
Edo period (1615-1868)
Lacquered and gilded wood, inlaid eyes
H : 88 cm L : 137 cm
M.C. 2162

This large tiger in painted and gilded wood, before being acquired by Cernuschi, was owned by Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), the great star of the Parisian theater of the late nineteenth century. Here in his diary records, in an entry from January 17th 1885, Edmond de Goncourt recounts the acquisition of the Tiger by Cernuschi: "Today at Sichel’s, Cernuschi recounted that on the first day of Theodora, he received a letter from Sarah Bernhardt saying roughly as follows: ‘I am as poor as my grandfather Job: would you buy my wooden tiger which I bought for 6,000 francs from Bing...? But I need money right now ... I ask you because my tiger is superb and Japanese.’ “Gaston Migeon reports a different story. According to him, the actress presented herself at Cernuschi’s and offered him the tiger. Having obtained the agreement of Cernuschi, she told him: ‘Take it, Mr. Cernuschi, it is down below’ She would have brought the tiger in her car. The actress had bought this "tiger" from the dealer Siegfried Bing: an engraving by Henry Somm of a store window from the time shows the tiger among other Asian sculptures and objects. Bing had probably acquired it in Japan for a very modest sum; Philippe Sichel remembered seeing the tiger in the front of an antique shop in Osaka and refused to buy it for 50 francs.

In 1883, Gonse presented the tiger in an exhibition on Rue de Seze at the Galerie Georges Petit. It still belonged to Sarah Bernhardt. The tiger does not appear in his book, L’art Japonais, published the same year, but is mentioned in the second edition published in 1886. Sarah Bernhardt played the role of Theodora in the eponymous play by Victorien Sardou in 1884 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin. The date of 1884 for this acquisition by Cernuschi seems quite likely. This is an example of the pieces purchased in France or Europe by Cernuschi to "complete" his collection. But rather than for the sake of completeness, we can assume that it was for the pleasure of creating the event and telling the story that motivated the gesture. Rumors and "fait divers" are thus at the heart of the phenomenon of collecting.

Auteur de la notice : Michel Maucuer
Collection : Arts décoratifs du Japon
Mode d'acquisition : Bequest of Henri Cernuschi, 1896.

Musée Cernuschi. Art animalier au temps des derniers Shogun (XVIIIe - XIXe siècles) : animaux d'Edo - Fonds Cernuschi 1871 – 1872. Paris, 1986  [catalogue d’exposition illustré en noir]. n°141, p.120.

© Musée Cernuschi