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Talma, Francois Joseph

TALMA, FRANCOIS JOSEPH (1763-1826), French actor, was born in Paris on the 15th of January 1 763. His father, a dentist there, and afterwards in London, gave him a good English education, and he returned to Paris, where for a year and a half he practised dentistry. His predilection for the stage was cultivated in private theatricals, and on the 21st of November 1787 he made his debut at the Comedie Francaise as Seide in Voltaire's Mahomet. His efforts from the first won approval, but for a considerable time he only obtained secondary parts. It was as the jeune premier that he first came prominently into notice, and he attained only gradually to his unrivalled position as the exponent of strong and concentrated passion. Talma was among the earliest advocates of realism in scenery and costume, being aided by his friend the painter David. His first essay in this direction took the form of appearing in the small r61e of Proculus in Voltaire's Brutus, with a toga and Roman headdress, much to the surprise of an audience accustomed to 18th century costume on the stage, and heedless whether or not it suited the part played. Talma possessed in perfection the physical gifts fitting him to excel in the highest tragedy, an admirably proportioned figure, a striking countenance, and a voice of great beauty and power, which, after he had conquered a certain thickness of utterance, enabled him to acquire a matchless elocution. At first somewhat stilted and monotonous in his manner, he became by perfection of art a model of simplicity. Talma married Julie Carreau, a rich and talented lady in whose salon were to be met the principal Girondists. The actor was an intimate friend of Napoleon, who delighted in his society, and even, on his return from Elba, forgave him for performing before Louis XVIII. In 1808 the emperor had taken him to Erfurt and made him play the Mart de Cfsar to a company of crowned heads. Five years later he took him also to Dresden. Talma was also a friend of Joseph Ch6nier, Danton, Camille Desmoulins and other revolutionists. It was in Chenier's anti-monarchical Charles IX., produced on the 4th of November 1789, that a prophetic couplet on the destruction of the Bastille made the house burst into a salvo of applause, led by Mirabeau. This play was responsible for the political dissensions in the Comedie Franchise which resulted in the establishment, under Talma, of a new theatre known for a time 3 8o as the Theitre de la Republique, on the site of the present Th6atre Frangais. Here he won his greatest triumphs. Further development in costume and make-up was shown in his stage portrait of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1790), pronounced a wonderful likeness in Le journaliste des ombres. In 1801 he divorced his wife, and in 1802 married Charlotte Vanbove, an actress of the Comedie Franchise. He made his last appearance on the nth of June 1826 as Charles VI. in Delaville's tragedy, and he died in Paris on the 19th of October of that year.

Talma was the author of Memmres de Lekain, precedes de reflexions sur cet acteur et sur I'arl theatral, contributed to the Collection des memoires sur I' art dramatique, and published separately (1856) as Reflexions de Talma sur Lekain et I'art theatral.

See Memoires de F. J. Talma, ecrits par lui-meme, et recueillis et mis en ordre sur les papiers de safamille, by Alex. Dumas (1850).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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