the 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”.