Christian Bérard was a flamboyant French artist affectionally known as Bébé. He painted portraits and nudes, designed decors and costumes and illustrated books and fashion magazines.
Bérard was a son of an architect, born in Paris, France, in 1902. Young Bérard was captivated by the theatre and ballet and compiled albums of costume and scenery designs. He studied at one Paris’s most prestigious high schools, Lycée Janson de Sailly. From 1920 to 1923 he attended the Académie Ranson, where he studied with painters Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard.
In 1924, Bérard held his first exhibition of paintings at Galerlie Druet. Painting was his first love but by the 1930s he had begun illustrating and designing fabrics and interiors. He found fame as a fashion illustrator, working from 1935 for Harpers Bazaar and Vogue magazine. During the 1930s and 1940s, Bérard illustrated for many of the leading designers, including Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean Patou, Madeleine Vionnet, Nina Ricci and Elsa Schiaparelli.
A collaboration with filmmaker Jean Cocteau, in the early 1930s, introduced Bérard to stage and costume design. He went on to work with directors Louis Jouvet and Jean-Louis Barrault, as well as choreographer Serge Lifar. Bérard was a frequent collaborator with French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank. In 1939 Frank hired Bérard to paint trompe-l’oeil panelling for the Institut Guerlain in Paris. Bérard’s most renowned achievement was his enchanting set and costume designs for Jean Cocteau’s film La Belle et la Bête (1946).
On 11 February 1949, whilst working at the Théàtre Marigny, Bérard died suddenly on the stage just after having cried ‘it’s over’. He died of a heart attack, aged only 46.
Bérard was a central and celebrated figure in the artistic Parisian social circles. He was a great Bohemian character and one of the most prominent openly homosexual couples in French theatre during the 1930s and 40s. Composer Francis Poulenc dedicated Stabat Mater (1950) to Bérard and director Jean Cocteau also dedicated Orphée (1950) to the influential artist.
Christian Bérard’s work can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and The Menil Collection, Houston.