The honeymoon is over: Jacques Henri Lartigue's intimate photographs reveal the truth behind his troubled marriage

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As a new London exhibition will reveal, the famed French photographer's shots of his bohemian socialite wife lay bare the underlying truths of their tumultuous relationship

The photographer has dared to enter the private space of her bathroom – yet the young French socialite Madeleine Messager is far from angry. In fact, perched on the lavatory, she dares to gaze coquettishly back into the lens. The man behind the camera: the renowned French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue. It is 17 December 1919, the night of their wedding, and Messager – better known by her nickname Bibi – is in love.

Lartigue captured Bibi's free spirit in a blizzard of photographs that would receive a public audience only five decades later – when a collection of 100,000 of his shots was discovered by the Rado agency. Yet, while Messager was at first the smiling focus of Lartigue's passion, by 1928, her joie de vivre had all but vanished…

The daughter of the French composer André Messager and fêted Irish opera singer Hope Temple, Bibi mixed in the same high-society crowd as Lartigue's wealthy industrialist family. When they met in the Alps, in 1918, it was the playful Bibi who gave chase to the deeply inhibited Lartigue. Drawn to her bohemian nature, he proposed. "She's wonderful, joyful, intelligent and curious," he marvelled in his diary.

Like many high-society couples, they spent seasons in Biarritz and Paris and on the Riviera; all the time, Lartigue's lens capturing France's elite at leisure; all the time, Bibi at the centre, whether at yoga or frolicking on the beach.

While the birth of their son Dany, in 1921, did little to dent their glamorous lifestyle, that smile first faltered when tragedy struck in 1924, with the premature death of their daughter Véronique at just a few months old. Consumed by sorrow, the couple threw themselves into the jazz-soaked party scene – and Lartigue's eyes began to wander.

No longer the sole object of his desire, Bibi was now frequently shot in the company of other women, sometimes even relegated to the periphery. Lartigue embarked on a series of affairs and luxuriated in the attention, and Bibi was less than happy with this arrangement: melancholy fills the frame of a shot of her taken while on a trip to Marseilles in 1928 (page 22, bottom).

Yet when Bibi made the decision to file for divorce, Lartigue was devastated. "My broken heart only wishes her well," he declared. The divorce marked not only the end of a relationship but also a change in his photographic style.

1919: Jacques Henri Lartigue, Agay, Cap du Dramont 1919: Jacques Henri Lartigue, Agay, Cap du Dramont
The celebrated fashion portraits he took of his subsequent partner – the Romanian model Renée Perle – lack both the spontaneity of his earlier work and the joyfulness that his first wife instilled in him. "I don't like this period," agrees Maryse Cordesse, curator of a new exhibition of his shots of Bibi at the Photographers' Gallery. "Yes, Renée was more beautiful, but she poses."

Lartigue was to spend the next 30 years in relative poverty: the family home sold off, he painted portraits to make ends meet. It was not until the age of 69, while he was married to his third wife, that Lartigue's body of work was discovered by the wider art world, with an exhibition of his albums at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1963.

As for Bibi, she found happiness elsewhere, moving to St-Tropez after the divorce, to live the rest of her days away from the lens. "I'm sad that they did not stay together," says Cordesse, who knew Lartigue well in his later life. "She was the living part of the couple."

'Jacques Henri Lartigue: Bibi' is at The Photographer's Gallery, London W1, from 11 October to 5 January

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own