The eccentric artist known as ‘Bébé’

“All his work, even the most trivial, was always impregnated by the flight of genius.” In one of the chapters of his book The Mirrors of Fashion, the photographer Cecil Beaton delves into the figure of Christian Bérard, an omnipresent creator in that period of the European cultural scene –marked by the hegemony of Paris– that covers the decade of the twenties until the early postwar years. Painter, theater and ballet decorator, costume designer, fashion illustrator, interior designer, the artistic projection of Christian Bérard (1902-1949) or Bébé, as he was called because of his childish face, expanded into a series of territories in that landscape. abrupt marked by the avant-garde of the thirties, the different artistic scenes of Paris between the wars, the ephemeral and sophisticated universe of fashion and its agents. 

A stylistic promiscuity where Bérard acts as an eccentric creator, both for his artistic achievements and for his domestic habits, addiction to opium or his habit of residing in third-rate hotels, where he receives his guests lying on the bed of a small cubbyhole. Among his contemporaries, friends, collaborators and patrons and a name index that includes Coco Chanel, Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, Boris Kochno, Dhiaghilev’s lover and successor in the direction of The Ballets Russes, or the couple of patrons Charles and Marie Laure Noailles.VerticalChristian Bérard: ‘The Pied Piper’, 1935 

The Christian Bérard exhibition stands on this great social and artistic fresco from the first half of the 20th century. Excentrique Bébé that rediscovers the figure of a creator who remains invisible. As the art historian Tirza T. Latimer points out in the exhibition catalogue, Bérard’s “eccentric modernism” requires an inclusive rereading of his work, which, like other artists, has been marginalized in official history”. 

From this desire for repair and interdisciplinary character that punctuates his career, the exhibition visualizes a dialogue between painting, stage sets and costumes for theatre, ballet and cinema, fashion and interior decoration, bringing back the universe of fantasy and the complexity of a professional adventure built in collaboration with creators from different disciplines that marked a decisive period in the artistic life of the 1930s and 1940s.

Bérard acted as an extravagant creator, with his addiction to opium or his habit of residing in third-rate hotels, where he received his guests lying on the bed of a small cubbyhole.

As Celia Bernasconi, curator of the exhibition, indicates, “there are two characters, the poet Jean Cocteau, friend and protector, and the artistic director of the Ballets Russes, Boris Kochno, who are both fundamental from an intimate and professional point of view in the Berard’s life. Exiled from revolutionary Russia, Kochno will become the right hand of Serge Diaghilev, the director of the legendary Ballets Russes. His meeting with Christian Bérard will be decisive. Added to physical attraction is creative recognition. Together they produce a series of ballets, Bérard, set design and costumes, and Georges Balanchine in the choreographic creation, which continue the legend started by Diaghilev. 

A hitherto unknown world of aristocratic patrons who solicit his artistic services opens up for Bérard, be it paintings in the Renaissance spirit to adorn his living room, a collection of family portraits or the decoration of some of his chateaux. The Bérard-Kochno couple will also animate some of the masked balls that mark the most mundane Paris each season. For one of the parties, Bérard appears disguised as Little Red Hood while Kochno becomes his Big Bad Wolf. Bérard’s imaginative designs sparkle in this ephemeral world of masks and costumes.HorizontalInterior of the exhibition in Monaco 

His meeting with Jean Cocteau, the other key figure in his life, opens up a new avenue of experimentation for him: the theatrical field. Bérard’s creativity breaks into the poet’s dramaturgy in a series of productions throughout the thirties. The collaboration between the two reaches its peak in the screen adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Bérard’s imprint in the artistic direction of the film will be decisive in the magic and plastic beauty of the work. His dedication to what some call minor arts to the detriment of his first pictorial vocation will often be the object of criticism. For Bérard it is an important source of income. 

His fashion illustrations for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue illuminated by his bold color combinations create school. The launch of the so-called New Look by Christian Dior in 1947 will find in her designs the best graphic projection of her. On February 12, 1949, during the presentation of some sets at the Marigny Theater in Paris, she died of a stroke.