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Jean Cocteau

Retour à l'ordre, Avant-garde, Surrealism

(Maisons-Laffitte, 1889 – Milly-la-Forêt, 1963)

Jean Cocteau

Born into a family of the grand Parisian bourgeoisie, Cocteau published his first poems in 1909. He quickly became a leading figure in the Paris high society and frequents multiple salons. Hired as an ambulance driver during World War I he befriended Apollinaire. Perfect gentleman, he was the good genie to countless artists. He is considered as a founder of the Retour à l'Ordre movement, caracterized by an interest for Classicism. The name of this movement comes from Le rappel à l'ordre, written by Cocteau and published in 1926.

The interwar period was the height of his glory, a period of intense creativity, under the sign of the avant-garde. He collaborated with musicians such as Erik Satie (Parade, 1917) and Darius Milhaud, but also with famous painters. He showed equal curiosity for futuristic-poetry, Dadaist-inspired or Cubist-inspired poertry, poetic novels, theater and cinema. He is the poet of La Danse de Sophocle and Le Cap de Bonne Espérance, novelist of Les Enfants Terribles, playwriter of Les parents Terribles, cineast of Le Sang du Poète, Orphée and La Belle et la Bête.

Cocteau draws a lot throughout his life, and painted during his last years of living. He notably has drawn the first poster of Russian Ballets from Serge de Diaghilev. Nevertheless, despite his artistic talents, Jean Cocteau always insisted that he was primarily a poet and that all work is prosaic.

In his young years, his drawings were divided in two groups with different aesthetics: humorous drawing – abundant and sharp – and disturbing drawings, inspired by hallucinogenic use. He reunited an important number of drawings in albums, such as Mystery of Jean l’Oiseleur (1925) that he considerate as “graphic poetry”.

He then created a characteristic, affected style, with volutes of an interrupted line forming every element of the subject; he also end every drawing with small stars surrounding his name Jean, which is his signature.

At the end of his life, he was nominated as a French Academy Member. Influenced by Matisse Vence’s Chapel, he wanted to leave a record of his graphic savoir-faire. He then drew tapestry cartoons and decorated them with  lightly colored drawings, in a relatively crude style, like the Chapelle des Pêcheurs in Villefranche-sur-Mer (1957).

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