(Paris) Candor, audacity, twig size, delicious accent mistakes: Jane Birkin, who died at 76, will remain the favorite Englishwoman of the French, inseparable from Serge Gainsbourg, of whom she was the muse and ambassador.

“When I see the French listen to songs that are forty years old, I know they are part of their history. But they too are part of mine,” the artist summed up when his diary Munkey diaries was published in 2018. Jane Birkin was found dead on Sunday at her home in Paris.

Androgynous silhouette and pout of a woman-child, the embodiment of bohemian-chic, this icon has led a fine career as an actress and singer, also inspiring fashion designers.

Long after the death of Serge Gainsbourg in 1991, and despite hardships such as the disappearance of her daughter Kate in 2013, then a leukemia that took a long time to heal, she always sang the work of the one with whom she formed a mythical couple. in the 70s.

Daughter of a great resistant, David Birkin, who died the day of Serge’s funeral, and of a famous actress, Judy Campbell, she was born on December 14, 1946 in London. She was noticed at the cinema in Blow up by Michelangelo Antonioni (Palme d’or 67 at Cannes), where her nudity caused a scandal.

She was under 20 when she married English composer John Barry, 13 years her senior. The couple have a daughter, Kate. He leaves her and she decides to try her luck in Paris. In 1968, on the set of the film Slogan by Pierre Grimblat, she met Gainsbourg.

Forever united in the collective imagination, they embody the unbridled creativity of an era. They have a daughter, Charlotte.

Jane puts her voice in 1969 – “erotic year” – on the sulphurous Je t’aime, moi non plus. Brigitte Bardot had banned the release of the initial version of which she was the interpreter, at the time of her affair with The Man with the Head of Cabbage. It is a success. In 1971, Histoire de Melody Nelson was released, a concept album designed by Gainsbourg around Jane, a commercial failure on its release, which then became a classic.

In 1980, she left “Gainsbarre”, drowned in alcohol, sometimes violent. “She dumped me and it was good for my face, me breaking hers,” he said in Inrocks in 1987.

She becomes the companion of the filmmaker Jacques Doillon, for 13 years, and has a daughter with him, Lou.

Often confined to the roles of nunuches, she began her reconversion into auteur cinema. “Despite appearances, I have something infinitely sad inside me, a terrible sense of guilt that has not left me since childhood. Jacques guessed that in me,” she explained.

In the credits of some 70 films, she was chosen by signatures such as Jacques Rivette, Bertrand Tavernier, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, James Ivory or Agnès Varda. Without ever departing from her humility: she claims to have an “instinct” of actress but no “talent”.

His relationship with Doillon does not prevent him from continuing to sing Gainsbourg. And him to continue to write for her. She notably recorded Baby Alone in Babylon (1983), which went gold.

But it was not until she was over 40, in 1987, that she finally made her stage debut at the Bataclan in Paris, followed by the Casino de Paris and the Olympia. Female performer of the year at the Victoires de la musique 92 in France, (then awarded a Victory of Honor for her career in 2021), she is on all fronts: she plays in the theater, gives concerts in France and elsewhere, directs a first film Oh! Sorry, You Were Sleeping (about a couple falling apart, inspired by their relationship with Barry).

In 1999, released her first disc without Gainsbourg, with songs written for her by French singer-songwriters like Françoise Hardy or Alain Souchon. In 2008, the first album for which she wrote all the texts, Children of Winter, appeared. She will do it again in 2020 with the superb Oh! Pardon tu dormais, a disc created with the French composer and performer Étienne Daho.

Dredged by the brands (there is even a Birkin bag at Hermès), the artist is also committed to humanitarianism and ecology. But she always came back to Gainsbourg, performing her pieces in 2018 with a classical orchestra: Birkin Gainsbourg le symphonique.

“Coming back to Serge once again: I couldn’t find better”, confided the “little Baby Doll” who knew how to sublimate her texts so well.