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21 June 2012

Véra Sergine

Véra Sergine (1884 - 1946) was a popular French stage actress between the 1910's and 1930's, who was also active in French silent cinema of the 1910's. She was first married to actor Pierre Renoir, and then had a long relationship with actor Henri Rollan. She is the mother of Claude Renoir.

 Vera Sergine
French postcard. Series Nos artistes dans leur loge, No. 69. Photo Comoedia.

The Enfevered Woman
Véra Sergine was born Marie Marguerite Aimée Roche in Paris in 1884. She started acting in stage plays around 1904, probably first in Armide et Gildis by Camille de Sainte-Croix at the Théâtre de l'Odéon (1904). When playing The Enfevered Woman in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien at the Théâtre du Chatelet in 1911, she was supposed to show the Holy Shroud to the early Christians. The typical jack-of-all-trades D’Annunzio quickly drew the face of Christ on a veil. Sergine annexed the veil as a souvenir from the tragedy, defending she had a right to it, but her new maid simply thought the veil was stained and washed it. Sergine was an early adapter to cinema. When the film d’art wave started, stage actors playing in films based on famous plays, novels or historical events, which gave the filmic medium prestige. Sergine made her film debut in Marie Stuart/Mary Stuart (1908, Albert Capellani). It was followed by such Pathé Frères productions as La grande bretèche/The Great Breach (1909) opposite André Calmettes, Pygmalion (1909, Daniel Riche), L’écharpe/The scarf (1910, André Calmettes) with Henri Pouctal, Moderne Galathée/Modern Galatea (1911, Georges Denola), and the two-part Les deux gosses/The two kids (1912, Adrien Caillard) starring little Marie Fromet. She also appeared in the propagandistic Patrie/Pro Patria (1914, Albert Capellani) starring Henri Krauss and Paul Capellani. In Le médecin des enfants/The Children's Doctor (1916, Georges Denola) she played the wife of the doctor (Maxime Desjardins). Finally she appeared in Le geste/The gesture (1916, Georges Denola), based on the novel by Maurice Montégut. While she was a big theatre star in the early 1910's, Sergine doesn’t seem to have done much on stage during the First World War. However she supported the French cause by propagandistic performances on stage. In the 1920's her stage career would peak and she even directed one play herself.

 Vera Sergine
French postcard by A.N. Paris, no. 5. Photo: Henri Manuel.

 Vera Sergine
French postcard by Wyndham Ed., Paris, no. W 108.

Volcanic Character
In 1910 (according to Wikipedia 1914), Véra Sergine married actor Pierre Renoir. In 1913, they had a son, Claude Renoir, who would become a famous director of photography. Pierre Renoir was the son of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who painted a famous portrait of Sergine in 1914. Sergine introduced Pierre's brother, Jean Renoir, to theatrical circles and to the cinema. In 1925 Sergine divorced Pierre Renoir. After that she lived with actor Henri Rollan. She didn’t break the family tie entirely, though, and continued to visit Les Collettes, the Renoir estate. In 1913 she had acted with Rollan in Alsace by Gaston Leroux and Lucien Camille, at the Théâtre Femina in Paris. In the 1920's they would act together in La Danse de minuit by Charles Méré, staged by Victor Francen at the Théâtre de Paris. In the same year they professionally collaborated again when Sergine directed Rollan in La Tentation (1924), another play by Méré. She co-starred in it as well. In 1925 they acted together again, with Raimu, in La nuit est à nous by Henry Kistemaeckers, at the Théâtre de Paris. Kistemaeckers was apparently a beloved playwright for Sergine, as she also starred in his La Passante (Théâtre de Paris 1921) and L'Esclave errante (Théâtre de Paris, 1923). Sergine was known for her naturalistic style and her volcanic character. Until the mid-1930's she continued acting on stage. From 1927 on Sergine resided for some decades at the Villa Argentina at Saint-Raphaël (Boulouris), on the Cote d’Azur. Recently the villa was restored to its original splendor. Véra Sergine died in 1946 at Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. She was 61.

 Vera Sergine
French promotional postcard by Campari. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères. Caption: Campari! Le seul que je boive! (Campari! The only thing I drink!)

 Vera Sergine
French promotional postcard by Campari. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères. Caption: Campari! Le seul que je boive! (Campari! The only thing I drink!)

Sources: Tommaso Antongini (D’Annunzio), Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

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