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5 July 2013

Jacques Henri Lartigue, Bibi

‘And now it is up to you, modest photographs, to do what you can—very little, I know—to tell everything, explain everything, make everything be imagined Everything, even and above all what cannot be photographed.’ Diary, 1931.

An amateur of genius endowed with precocious talent, Jacques Henri Lartigue was discovered and made famous by the United States in 1963, when he was 69 years old. This American gaze focused on the first years of his work, those of the Belle Epoque, of which his stunning snapshots became the basis for his fame and enclosed him within it. However the oeuvre is far richer than this. A vibrant mirror of a man’s life, it not only requires our wondrous gaze but also our sensitive appreciation.

The present exhibition focuses on the 1920s, the years of his marriage with Madeleine Messager, known as Bibi, his first wife and the mother of his only son Dany.


The years with Bibi (1918-1930) form a highly constructed whole in Lartigue’s life and work. Robust and joyful, Bibi provided an anchor for his anxious sensibility and Lartigue magnified his wife’s serene force by his use of the panoramic format.

An elegant and social couple, Jacques and Bibi participated in the effervescence of the 1920s, consisting of soirées, trips to Deauville, the Basque coast and the Côte d’Azur. In this period, Lartigue endeavoured to enter professional life through painting and to achieve a difficult domestic independence. Unsure of himself, even though he was handsome, Lartigue gave into the period’s feverish seductions and was left dumbfounded and deeply hurt when Bibi left him in 1930.

Maryse Cordesse, exhibition curator.


Exhibition venue: Église des Trinitaires, Rencontres d’Arles 2013.