Frédérique O’Connell (Potsdam, 1823 – Paris, 1885)

Paris, circa 1853

Oil on canvas, 88 x 66 cm

Frédérique O’Connell (Potsdam, 1823 – Paris, 1885), Portrait of Rachel, circa 1853

Frédérique O’Connell (Potsdam, 1823 – Paris, 1885), Portrait of Rachel, circa 1853

The French tragedian Rachel, daughter of Jewish pedlars from Alsace and Lorraine, is emblematic of the generation born after the Emancipation who integrated fully into French cultural life in the mid-19th century. Born Élisabeth Rachel Félix in 1821, this child prodigy was the first “star” of the French stage before Sarah Bernhardt. She arrived in Paris with her parents, passionate theatre-lovers, after a poverty-stricken, itinerant childhood in Switzerland and Lyon, where she had to beg to survive. A gifted actress, she was taught by the artist Alexandre Choron then the actors Saint-Aulaire and Samson. Hired by the Théâtre-Français at the age of seventeen, she made her début in Corneille’s Horace and went on to play all the great tragic heroines.

Her fascinating stage presence aroused passions and fired the public imagination. The mistress of Count Walewski, Napoleon I’s illegitimate son, she gave birth to Alexandre Walewski, the emperor’s only grandson. When she died aged only twenty-seven, she was worshipped by the writers Alfred de Musset and Théophile Gautier and had been immortalised by painters. For the upholders of the Enlightenment she embodied the successful outcome of education and apprenticeship, yet like many Jews she was ostracised by conservative and anti-Semitic circles.

On the same topics

Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Haarlem, 1638 - 1698), Gezicht op de Grote en Portugese Synagoge te Amsterdam (View of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Synagogues in Amsterdam), Amsterdam, 1682, oil on canvas, 58.7 x 73.5 cm, on permanent loan from the Musée de Picardie, Amiens
History, Fine arts

Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Haarlem, 1638–Haarlem, 1698)

Amsterdam, 1682

Samuel Hirszenberg (Łódz, 1865 – Jerusalem, 1908), Portrait of a Jewish writer, circa 1902
Fine arts

Samuel Hirszenberg (Łódz, 1865 – Jérusalem, 1908)

Circa 1902

Anonymous, Portrait of Chief Rabbi David Sintzheim, France, early 19th century
History, Fine arts


France, early 19th century