Enormous Chaos: Love… the Jacques & Bibi Story.

 14th February, 2011.

Bibi in Marseille, 1928. 
Photo - Jacques Henri Lartigue

As I endure my own form of faltering suburban domesticity, sliding with high ache from frosty to who knows where, I couldn’t help but be remarkably moved when recently I read the heartfelt diary of Jacques Henri Lartigue. And given that today is Valentines Day, a special poignancy is attached to the entries of the1920s and specifically the photographer’s vast disparity of emotion found at either end of his marriage to first wife, Bibi. 
For anyone who has endured a failed coupling could not help but empathise; feeling tremendous sympathy in the face of Jacques’ eloquently laid words.  Unbridled joy and a carefree euphoria, stalled cruelly by life itself; the union smashed upon the rocks of betrayal and loss as the lively decade played out to a most sombre personal conclusion.

Jacques & Bibi on their wedding day
 The boy wonder, Lartigue had been photographing at a genius level since receiving the gift of a camera from his father at the age of 7. He first met Madeleine Messager during the penultimate year of the Great War and quickly coined for his new love, the nickname, ‘Bibi’(as you do). Madeleine was the daughter of the much respected composer and Director of the Paris Opera, Andre Messager. And on the 17th of December, 1919, Jacques and Bibi commenced married life together…with tremendous hope in their hearts and an unreserved commitment

Jacques Henri Lartigue - Diary entries …

January 1920 –

“What am I ? And what am I doing here ? I am a married man – on my honeymoon. I think it must be the funniest thing in the world, me, a married man, on his honeymoon.
Bibi and I go everywhere together … arm in arm. We look at everything; we discover everything”.

“On her loving days Bibi is intelligent, charming and terribly funny. I will cherish forever the first photograph I took of her on our honeymoon.”

Bibi on her honeymoon.
Photo - Jacques Henri Lartigue

“We have a good life …”

“To keep in good shape Bibi exercises every morning with her teacher. I sometimes exercise with her, but that apparently, is disastrous for her concentration. We laugh too much. I don’t understand why Bibi is so concerned about her figure. She tells me she does it for me and that I ought to be flattered. Life is full of excitement, surprises … and best of all, Bibi.”

1921 –

“I have a son ! He was born on August 23. His name is Dani, and he cries, he screams, he howls … and when Dani finally consents to give his public a vague, resigned smile of concession, everyone is ecstatic: he smiles like an angel”

“Yvonne (Printemps) is one month younger than I, Bibi two years. They are both flowers on the point of opening up to their moment of greatest beauty … so why do I still look like a bunch of green raisins ?”

1924 –

“Bibi in the last month of her pregnancy evokes an enormous tenderness in me. We are very close … in all senses. It seems to me, strangely enough, that I am waiting with more nervous expectation for this second child than I waited for our first. Bibi is not nervous. Quietly she prepares the room for the baby, irons the curtains, plays with Dani. She is tired … but happy.” 

Tragically the Lartigues second child Veronique, died shortly after birth.

Jacques attempted to forge a career as a painter throughout the mid nineteen twenties, adding, “Painting is my great passion”. And despite at one stage exhibiting his oils in the foyer of Gallery George Petit whilst Monet's work was on show inside, he was never to realize great success - 

Then in early 1929 Bibi’s father, Andre Messager also passed away. 

Bibi and Dani, Nice. 1928.
Photo - Jacques Henri Lartigue
February 1929 -

“Bibi is near to fainting in my arms.”

“To die on a Sunday. Messager, the always active man. I think about that. I think about a lot of things. My eyes are dry. Don’t I feel any grief ? Bibi weeps over her father … isn’t that enough to make my heart melt ?”

June 1929 -

“I am alone in the studio, my cluttered garret, high up in our house in Neuilly. It’s four o clock in the morning. Through the skylight I can see the whole city (Paris) bathed in the first glow of sunrise. I wonder how many unhappy people there are living in all the thousands of houses ? Am I one of those unhappy people ?
In a little while, I will go downstairs and lie beside Bibi. But first I must clarify my thoughts. I haven’t been very successful so far. It has been said so many, many times that a betrayed husband is the last person to know and to understand. A betrayed husband ? Me ?

Bibi in Nice. 1920 (autochrome)
Photo - Jacques Henri Lartigue
Bibi ! My little Bibi ! Bibi of our happy years ! Would she really betray me ? I realize, of course, that anything, absolutely anything, can happen in a lifetime; that the most improbable crises are always plausible. But this ? Bibi and that poseur ! Bibi, with her lack of patience, her knife-sharp judgments ! Bibi, the daughter of Messager ! But I shouldn’t have forgotten that Bibi is also the daughter of that Louis XV mother with her lace furbelows ! Does Bibi really love this man ? He loves her. Yes ! To him she is the Rolls-Royce he always wanted to have, when all the idiot can afford is a Renault ! I talk, I write, I think. But inside me the chaos continues ! I tell myself lies, and then I try to convince myself that what I just told to myself is the truth. I think: I love Bibi, she is mine. I don’t want to be concerned about anything else. There is a certain kind of suffering you can refuse. I am very sleepy, and I realize that I don’t know anything more than I did a few hours ago.”

Bibi. 1923.
Photo - Jacques Henri Lartigue
July 1929 -

“When I talk feverishly about the need to produce and to create, it really means that I’m in the midst of a crisis. Again I’ve become a spectator, an outsider, which, apparently is the only way I can live through these dramas. I have learned one thing: I should never have trusted our silences. I shouldn’t even have trusted the affectionate conversations we have had, Bibi and I. Our happiness has been assassinated ! We remain friends, we talk without anger, but the words – my words – are artificial. My second self, that cold, phlegmatic creature – my self-appointed referee – chuckles in a corner about my performance in real life.”

1930 -

“I live alone with my fantasies. Perhaps they are the best company a man can have?”

Paris is almost deserted. The smell of the hot asphalt evokes memories of other summers. And all those memories together form one great big, enormous chaos: love. There are old, marvellous, tender, indescribable memories that I never did, and never could, invite Bibi to share.” 

Jacques and Bibi were divorced during 1931.
Jacques remarried in 1934 to Coco Paulucci however this union dissolved a few years later. In 1942 Jacques met 20 year old Florette Ormea. They bought a house by the sea and were married in 1945, remaining together until the master photographer’s death during September 1986, aged 92.

Little is known of Bibi’s life beyond this period.      

This post is
dedicated to
Missa –
with love.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came across and purchased this framed photo; Bibi 1928 Marseille, at a flea market. Bibi is obviously not talking on a cell phone, although it looks as one does when doing so. Friends commented it must be fake. I of course disagree. I've offered that she is just cold and is holding her coat collar up to keep her neck warm. Any thoughts about this?