Histoire - Patrimoine bâti, Belle île en mer, île de Bretagne, Bretagne sud, au large du Golfe du MorbihanLe phare des Poulains vu depuis le fortin de Sarah Bernhardt
©Le phare des Poulains vu depuis le fortin de Sarah Bernhardt |Karine Piquet

The summers of Sarah Bernhardt at Les Poulains

Sarah Bernhardt, who had traveled the world, set her sights on one of the wildest places on the island one day in August 1894: La Pointe des Poulains.

The fort

A wild place

for a fierce artist!

In the summer of 1894, Sarah Bernhardt, a beautiful and fierce 50-year-old artist, was an international star who had traveled to five continents. Tired of her numerous and recent tours, she lets herself be convinced by her friend, the painter Georges Clairin, with whom she resides in Concarneau, to leave to discover Belle-île.

If this excursion is therefore nothing extraordinary in itself, Sarah Bernhardt’s love at first sight for the fortress of la Pointe des Poulains defies all reason! Built in 1846, its purpose was to defend the northern tip of this island, which had always been coveted by France’s rival powers. However, the France of 1894 is no longer the same… The progress of artillery and the evolution of international relations have rendered this small, simple fortress built on two levels obsolete. Surrounded by the ocean, in a setting of rocks sculpted by erosion – like the famous Rock of the Dog – this fortress stands in a nature that seems untamable… Not for Sarah, who is not frightened by anything and who is even completely seduced by the wild character of the place!

Histoire Musée Sarah Bernhardt Sauzon 4 Saisons La Maison De Sites ©karine Piquet 2020Histoire Musée Sarah Bernhardt Sauzon 4 Saisons La Maison De Sites ©karine Piquet 2020
©Histoire Musée Sarah Bernhardt Sauzon 4 Saisons La Maison De Sites ©karine Piquet 2020

I like to come every year to this picturesque island, to taste all the charm of its wild and grandiose beauty. I draw new artistic forces from its invigorating and restful sky.

Sarah Bernhardt (1905)

La pointe des Poulains

Theater of Operations of the Great Sarah

On November 11, 1894, she took possession of the fortress that would be her summer refuge for nearly 30 years, far from the hustle and bustle of Parisian life…Although! Because, it is not in the habits of our star to live in recluse! Every summer, a whole court of relatives, friends and artists come to Les Poulains.

Obviously, the fortress quickly became insufficient to house the entire troupe. In 1897, she therefore had a long white building built opposite the fort, the Villa of the Five Parts of the World (now Sarah Bernhardt Museographic Space), consisting of five rooms (each named after a continent) to accommodate her family, among others. Other constructions will follow: the Villa Lysiane (current Maison du Littoral) then the Villa Simone at the entrance to Sauzon, before the acquisition in 1907 of the Penhoët manor (which will be destroyed by the Germans in 1944).

From mid-July to mid-September

in the splendor of the Bell summers

Little by little, the Pointe des Poulains thus became the scene of the eccentric operations of our Divine, of her family, of her friends…Happy vacations that her granddaughter Lysiane records with love, and that you will be able to discover thanks to a visit with audio-guide at the museum space.

Everything is now in place for a vacation in the benevolent shade of the Phare des Poulains, in the precious company of the mother, the grandmother, the friend that everyone calls Great. Among the faithful there is Georges Clairin, of course, his Jeojotte, a little crazy, very funny, a painter of the orientalist movement, who traveled to Egypt with Camille Saint-Saëns, and Reynaldo Hahn, a French composer, conductor, singer and music critic of Venezuelan origin, who was the main companion of Marcel Proust.

The days follow one another without ever getting bored for this areopagus of artists and friends. Seaweed baths, siesta at the “Sarahtorium” before an excursion, picnics at the Calastrene farm – with a lot of furniture and servants! – tennis games that must have only one winner (Sarah Bernhardt, of course), dinners agitated by a thousand and one conversations where Sarah exercises her oratory talents…

Sarah Bernhardt, the (great) Lady of Penhöet

If Sarah Bernhardt had to face, for a time, the wrath of the fishermen of Sauzon – her installation at Les Poulains indeed deprived them of one of their favorite fishing spots – she was able to quickly conquer the heart of the people of Bellil…
Showing great solidarity, even back in Paris, she did not forget her fellow islanders. In the winter of 1911, when famine was threatening the island and the fishermen could not leave the port because of the storms, she organized a gala event in her theater (now the Théâtre du Châtelet) to support a local cooperative bakery initiative: “The winter bread of the fishermen of Belle-Île-en-Mer”… An ambassador as well as a protector.

When she died in 1923, many people in Belle-Île paid her a last and beautiful tribute: a mass was celebrated in the Palais church and the various island municipalities had bouquets of camellias delivered to cover the drawbridge of the Poulains fort. Sarah Bernhardt, who would have liked to make the Poulains rock her last resting place, is buried in Paris, in the Père-Lachaise cemetery (division 44).

If you pass by Belle-Île, at the Pointe des Poulains, listen carefully: here Sarah Bernhardt’s voice still resounds… here her presence is still felt. That of a unique and generous woman, a woman of the XXth century, in the vanguard, who had only one watchword all her life: “Quand Même!