ELIANE BONABEL AND LOUIS-FERDINAND CELINE
Eliane BONABEL 1920-2000
Engravings - 1932
||Dancing - Engravings|
Eliane Bonabel in 1960
The encounter – 1929
Eliane Bonabel met Dr. Louis-Ferdinand Destouches at the age of nine, when her uncle, Charles Bonabel, brought her to the Clichy health clinic in Paris. (The pseudonym Louis-Ferdinand Céline was unknown at the time. Louis-Ferdinand Destouches was working on his first novel: “Voyage au bout de la nuit” – "Journey to the end of the night.")
The two men immediately got along well and met on a regular basis. When Céline had visiting rights to welcome his daughter Colette in his rue Lepic apartment, he asked Charles Bonabel to send over his daughter Eliane, so that the two children of the same age could play together.
During one of his visits to the Bonabel house, Louis-Ferdinand Céline asked the young Eliane what fascinated her the most. She answered: “I like to draw”. He therefore insisted on seeing her sketches and drawings and asked her to draw his portrait, which he bought from her immediately. A vocation was born !
First illustrations for “Journey to the end of the night”
“Journey to the end of the night” was published in 1931. Despite its enormous success and the author’s newly established notoriety, Céline’s friendship with the Bonabel family remained unchanged. Remembering the young Eliane’s drawings, he entrusted her to execute the first illustrations of his novel. She was only 12 years old at the time. Robert Denoël, the editor, refused its publication (the novel illustrated with Bonabel’s drawings will only appear in 1998 with “La Pince à Linge” publishing house). Céline had never objected to this decision, thinking that the fact of asking a 12 year-old girl to read and illustrate his novel would have been misunderstood.
The friendship – The collaboration
Eliane Bonabel grew up with the growing friendship of Céline. By the end of the ‘30s, she had become a promising drawer; she then completed her first nudes with models. An admirer of Ballet dancing and dancers, Céline offered her the possibility of drawing bodies in movement at the Waker Dance Academy. He introduced her to Lucette Almansor, then ballerina and dance teacher, whom he had met a few months earlier and whom he will marry in 1943. (Eliane Bonabel and Lucette Almansor will remain very close friends until Eliane Bonabel’s death in the year 2000).
During this time, she will meet many of Céline’s friends: Marcel Aymé, Roger Nimier, and the painter Gen Paul (whom she loathed for that matter…)
In 1943, Eliane Bonabel executed a dozen illustrations for “Scandales aux Abysses”- "Scandal in the abyss", which will, however, never be published.
In June 1944, fearing for their lives (following the publication of his anti-Semitic pamphlets and due to his collaborationist involvement), Céline and his wife suddenly disappeared as they were forced into exile. Eliane will not see Céline until 1946.
At the end of the war, Eliane Bonabel worked on her first major post-war exhibit, dedicated to fashion (The Theatre of Fashion) at the Louvre museum. After Paris, the exhibit toured much of Europe, including the city of Copenhagen. There, in his Danish prison, she will find a lonely Céline, weakened by his captivity. (She will thus be the first French person to visit him). She will also go to great lengths to allow his wife Lucette to visit him more often. She will even provoke a meeting with France’s Ambassador in order to improve her old friend’s detention conditions. From his cell, Céline will instruct Eliane Bonabel to contact a few people in Paris who could testify in his favour at his extradition trial in France.
He will only return to his homeland in 1950 (he will be amnestied in 1951) and will settle in Meudon, a Parisian neighbourhood.
In 1958, Céline will remember Eliane Bonabel’s drawings of the Waker Dance Academy, and will commission her to illustrate his "Ballets without music, with no one, without nothing else" - "Ballets sans musique, sans parole, sans rien", published a year later by Gallimard.
The fascinating figure of the “Celinian” universe.
Of course, Eliane Bonabel’s artistic itinerary is not linked solely to that of Céline’s. Her talent as illustrator and drawer was obvious in numerous works and exhibits throughout the world. However, she remained a principal witness of Céline’s journey as a man and as a writer. Despite Céline’s dark thoughts, Eliane will remain a faithful and dispassionate friend until the end. For Eliane Bonabel, Céline will have always been Dr. Louis Destouches.
Eliane Bonabel will later say of Céline: “I have travelled much, and I have been associated with many circles and have met many people in my life; Céline is, without a doubt, the most astonishing and endearing person I have every had the chance to meet. I have never known anyone with such an accurate view on and such a quick analysis of the world surrounding him… Yet, more than an exceptional being, more than a unique writer, it was the attentive and careful friend - with an almost feminine sensitivity - whom I recall. Our relationship was filled with warmth, and never familiarity: everything was implicit, without useless chatter or sentimentalism. We just knew: that was sufficient.”
The European TV channel Arte dedicated a sequence to Eliane Bonabel in its series “Métropolis”, which was shown for the first time on September 12th, 1998.