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Talma, François Joseph

Category: Performer


François Joseph Talma (15 January 1763 – 1826) was a French actor born in Paris. 

He is on the site for one observation, but it is a particularly interesting one, because it would seem that for the sake of his stage career, he was capable of willing hallucinations.


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26

His father, a dentist in Paris, 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 jeutte 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 possessed the physical gifts to enable him to excel, a striking appearance and a voice which he gradually trained to perfection.   

He possessed :


“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”.



He was among the earliest advocates of realism in scenery and costume, being aided by his friend, the painter Jacques-Louis David. His first step in this direction was to appear in the small role of Proculus in Voltaire's Brutus, with a toga and short Roman haircut, much to the surprise of an audience accustomed to 18th century costume on stage, regardless of whether it suited the part played.

By the 1820s, Talma was established as "the dominant personality at the Comédie-Française, where he alone could still successfully impose classical tragedy upon the public". It was at this time that a young Alexandre Dumas, on one of his first visits to Paris, was inspired by a performance by Talma.

Talma eventually became a political influence as well as a literary one.  He was a friend of Joseph Chénier, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins and other revolutionaries. It was in Chenier's anti-royalist Charles IX, produced on 4 November 1789, that a prophetic couplet on the destruction of the Bastille made the house ‘burst into a salvo of applause’. This play was responsible for the political dissensions in the Comédie-Française which resulted in the establishment, under Talma, of a new theatre known for a time as the Theatre de la Republique, on the site of the present Theatre Francais. Here he won his greatest triumphs.

David - Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard

Talma married Julie Carreau, a rich and talented lady whose salon attracted the principal Girondists.

The actor became an intimate friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, who ‘delighted in his society’, and even, on his return from Elba, forgave him for performing before Louis XVIII.

In 1808 the emperor took him to Erfurt and made him play the Mort de Cesar to a company of crowned heads.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26

In 1801 he divorced his wife, and in 1802 married Charlotte Vanhove, an actress of the Comédie Francaise.

He made his last appearance in June 1826 as Charles VI in Delaville's tragedy, and he died in Paris on the 19th of October of that year.



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