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
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue