jaques-henri lartigue

bibi-1the pho­tog­ra­phers’ gallery presents bibi by the renowned french pho­tog­ra­ph­er jacques hen­ri lar­tigue. the exhi­bi­tion will focus on pho­tographs from the 1920s depict­ing lartigue’s mar­riage to madeleine mes­sager, known as bibi, his first wife and the moth­er of his only child. this will be the first inter­na­tion­al show­cas­ing of the exhi­bi­tion fol­low­ing its unveil­ing ear­li­er this year in les ren­con­tres d’arles.
bibi will fea­ture dozens of black and white pho­tographs, includ­ing images from the couple’s vis­it to lon­don. in addi­tion to these, a num­ber of rare colour glass plates and stereo­scop­ic cards will also be on dis­play. the pho­tographs will be pre­sent­ed in chrono­log­i­cal order and divid­ed into three sec­tions. these will trace lar­tigue and bibi’s rela­tion­ship from their ear­ly days as a lov­ing cou­ple and glam­orous socialites to sub­se­quent upheavals and calami­ties, which even­tu­al­ly led to their sep­a­ra­tion.
the first sec­tion begins in 1918 when the then twen­ty-four year old lar­tigue meets bibi, the daugh­ter of french com­pos­er andré mes­sager and irish song­writer hope tem­ple. at first resis­tant to the idea of giv­ing up a life of care­free flir­ta­tions, lar­tigue even­tu­al­ly falls for bibi, describ­ing her as a, “sweet lit­tle thing who leaves you quite indif­fer­ent to her charms”. they mar­ry on 17 decem­ber 1919 and spend their time between the lar­tigue fam­i­ly home in rouzat and cap d’antibes, enjoy­ing a life of leisure activ­i­ties and trav­el­ling. dur­ing this time lar­tigue begins paint­ing for a liv­ing and their son dani is born on 23 august 1921.
start­ing in 1922, the sec­ond sec­tion fol­lows lar­tigue and bibi as they become part of the bustling scene of art and high soci­ety in paris. that same year lar­tigue exhibits his paint­ings for the first time and the cou­ple begins to form a friend­ship with writer and film direc­tor sacha gui­t­ry and his wife, the singer and actress yvonne print­emps. two life chang­ing events soon fol­low – in 1923 the fam­i­ly home in rouzat is sold, which lar­tigue describes as hav­ing cre­at­ed “a huge hole” in his heart and in 1924 the couple’s sec­ond child véronique dies a few months after her birth. the tragedy casts bibi into despair and dri­ves her to seek com­fort from her father. lar­tigue, in the mean­time, grows clos­er to gui­t­ry, who he aspires to imi­tate, and grad­u­al­ly falls in love with print­emps. writ­ing in his diary he con­fess­es, “yes, i am mad! mad! mad­ly in love with yvonne.”
in the third and final sec­tion of the exhi­bi­tion, span­ning from 1926 to 1930, the couple’s mar­i­tal decline is wit­nessed through­out. lartigue’s pho­tographs reflect what he him­self is unwill­ing to acknowl­edge, as evi­dent from his diary entries, which hard­ly men­tion the cri­sis in his rela­tion­ship. no longer the sole object of his desire, bibi is now pic­tured in the com­pa­ny of oth­er women, often in the back­ground, at times look­ing out of place. although she remains lartigue’s ide­al com­pan­ion, he nev­er­the­less indulges in a series of affairs. the death of bibi’s beloved father in 1929 is the impe­tus she needs to break away from the mar­riage and the cou­ple divorces in 1931. the split comes as a shock to lar­tigue who writes “my bro­ken heart only wish­es her well”.
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