Some friends of mine who knew him as a business man, described Libaude as: "Tough on the outside, and soft on the inside." I suppose I should have viewed this as encouraging, but the bad things which had happened during the parade of dealers, had left me cautious about getting optimistic about any single one of them. They had proved to be a rotten lot, out for their own good, in the main, and, without integrity, stealing in the most brazen way. Libaude's hostile mannerisms, withdrawn personality, poised attitude of indifference, a take it or leave it posture, don't try games with me, and, if you don't like what you see--go somewhere else, hardly inspired prospective buyers. Libaude's face reflected his disdainful feelings about commercialism, it was lined with veins, lumpy and pockmarked, invariably gloomy, and his clothes, expensive but ill-fitting, draped unevenly on his stocky, muscular body, giving an impression both ambivalent and nondescript.
I couldn't get close to Libaude: he was distant, introvert in conversation and thinking, present but not present, very low key most of the time. When he was with a group, attention was always focused on the others, almost never on himself. He existed in the shadows, preferring it this way until it was in his interest to step into the spotlight. When this occured, he took over, pleading his cause expertly as well as aggressively. And I might add, that when he did so, Libaude was an extremely persuasive individual. It was then, especially if he was involved in making a deal, that his background in the arts became evident. Libaude made Soulier, with his phony stories about his association with great painters, look like the silly ass he was. You could see the difference right away because people listened when Libaude talked and they were eager to hear more. What he said, for the most part, was precisely to the point, no more, no less, than what was necessary to make a successful sales pitch. I believed that Libaude's prolonged silences had a lot to do with the impact he made when he did say something, "like hearing a loud sound unexpectedly in a quiet church," I explained to Max Jacobs, "it knocks you over!"
Libaude's desire to get on the Utrillo bandwagon began when he discovered a brilliant Utrillo, "Le Moulin de la Galette," at the Bernheim-juene Gallery. "An exceptional work," he told me when we happened to meet at the Cafe Lapin Agile, where he had talked with a waiter, Andte Chesinard, who had briefed him on the problems Maurice was having with the dealers who were representing him on the market. Chesinard had related the whole story; the cheating that was going on, and the rest of the shenanigans. Libaude saw the situation with Maurice as a big opportunity; a chance to get in the big-time art game; and he believed he was the man to pull it off. I felt he could help us; he was, no doubt, qualified for the job. Sagot hadn't worked out as I expected; there was considerable friction, and, even if I lacked evidence, I was certain he was cheating on us. Double-dealing was a common practice in the art world; it was a way of life for the characters who existed around its perimeters; Soulier's chicanerywas an example; a common occurence; something which made me very angry when you understand that we ended up with peanuts after furnishing the product that energized the situation. The aftertaste of the experience with Soulier played a large role in my decision to give Sagot the boot, but additionally, I was beginning to see that it was a huge mistake to give any of the characters circling around Maurice, the idea of having a permanent handle on the contents of the cookie jar....
I had no qualms about dumping Sagot, although, as it turned out, it wasn't that easy; the preacher was not enthusiastic about giving up a good thing, and he was also shocked to get the ax when he believed he was sitting pretty, in the driver's seat. Sagot put up a fight when I told him he was replaced, pointing out that he had gotten Maurice into important exhibitions, obtained higher prices, and had influenced prominent critics to write articles praising my son's painting: which, in my estimation, was another of his day-dreams. "I take credit," he boasted, "for Tabarant's piece in L'Evenement which described Maurice as a national treasure, a rare phenomenon, one of the country's greatest landscape painters!" This chest thumping by Sagot was sheer nonsense, a desperate attempt to get me to change my mind, as he faced losing a great deal of money. I was certain Tabarant wouldn't tolerate a bummer like Sagot advising him, particularly with his writing, which had gained wide respect. Sagot, seeing I wasn't going to change my mind, attacked Libaude, describing him as sinister, a man who could not be trusted, an angle coming from Sagot that made me laugh. "Libaude," he said, "was fired at L'Art Litteraire, for charging the magazine higher prices than he paid for the art work," insinuating I could expect the same kind of treatment. When Libaude heard this, he grinned, and remarked: "Those who indulge in underhand practices always accuse others of the same crime." Then pausing, his eyes narrowing to slits, his jaw thrust forward, he added, "If I meet that phony apostle of Christ, I'll break every single bone in his body!" Fortunately for Sagot this meeting never occured; from the look on Libaude's face, it was evident that he meant exactly what he said. As far as the problem of ditching Sagot was concerned, I simply let his pictures run out, and Maurice cooperated by bringing me the work, so that Sagot gradually faded from the picture.
I was the go-between, at first, in the exchanges that took place with Libaude, until Maurice decided that this was too complicated for him and began to deal directly. Libaude, raising doubts in my mind right away, started out badly by trying to advise Maurice on how he should paint, how much he should drink, and how he should act in order to avoid injury or being dragged off to the jailhouse. When he told Maurice that using a ruler was wrong, unacceptable at the Academie, and never done by the best artists, Maurice upended the table at the Cafe de l'Abreuvoir, where they were drinking, walked out on the dealer, stopping long enough at the entrance going out to the Place Emile Goudeau, to break the stained glass window in the front door which showed several naked women dancing around a maypole, a piece of art treasured by the owner, who filed charges, but then dropped them when Libaude paid twenty-five francs in damages. "The money," the proprietor told him, "Satisfies my damage estimate, but nothing," he insisted solemnly, "can heal the hurt I experience at the loss of such a masterpiece!"
Maurice didn't accept interference in his painting, especially from a charlatan like Libaude, reacting violently, or ignoring it, according to his mood. If Libaude was distant in attitude, Maurice was even worse, making for a heavy silence. When this happened when they were at a cafe, it was Maurice who flew off to find more congenial surroundings. Eventually, Libaude realized the impossibility of coming to an accomodation with a character like my son, and settled down to tolerate the the trouble rather than try to correct it .... A wise decision.
Despite the dealer controversy, sales remained brisk, everybody more or less satisfied with the way things had worked out. This condition prevailed until I discovered that Libaude was as bad as Sagot, selling unlisted works, and putting the money in his pocket. The discrepancies had been brought to my attention by the connoisseur and Utrillo collector, Monsieur Isadore Truffant, an investment banker, who had asked me about details in a painting by Maurice, "La Rue Cortot a Montmartre," showing the composer Berlioz's house. I noticed that the picture had not been listed in the inventory Libaude had sent me, that it had not been reported sold, that there were some shennanigans going on which required my immediate attention. Before approaching the dealer, I questioned Maurice at the Cafe Belle Gabrielle, but this was a waste of time because he had absolutely no memory of completed paintings, staring at me blankly as he took deep drags on a cigarette, shuffling his feet, tapping the glass of wine on the table, a bored expressionon his face, completely oblivious to my presence. It was apparent that the information from Monsieur Truffant indicated a definitive pattern of stealing, of improper listings, disguising the cheating, and it was clear that he was conducting a criminal operation in the most brazen manner, probably convinced we were too stupid or intimidated to do anything about it.
When I confronted Libaude with the evidence, threatening to bring him into court, he admitted the fraud, and he made a payment, in banknotes, of eight-hundred and fifty francs, far less than we were owed, along with a signed note promising to pay the remainder at a later specified date. For the moment, I let the arrangement he had with us on the dealing stand, fearing that if I fired him we would lose what we were owed, and I had no confidence that he'd return the dozen or so Utrillos he had locked up in his shop on the Rue Fontaine. Actually, all my talk about legal action was pure bluff; I had no money to pull off anything like that; and Libaude was well aware that he held good cards at the moment; and that if the money kept coming in, he wouldn't have trouble handling the three of us.