Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau

portrait of Cocteau by Andy Warhol
5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963 was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright, artist and filmmaker.

My visit with my sister Monica who lives in Fontainebleau was an adventurous vacation. She lives in one of the most historical places on earth so she and I together with our eldest sister who is visiting from Hawaii keep discovering interesting people and impressive places. One morning, we were in Milly-la-Forêt, a small village where she always buy her freshly baked, hot and crusty baguette when we chanced upon a new museum. It was just newly inaugurated and just opened its doors to the public so we decided to go in and see what's in store for us. 

Jean Cocteau is the son of a wealthy music and art lovers. His parents used to invite him to the theater but he always declines. Instead he draws and sketches the personalities when he's home.

French artist and writer, who made his name widely known in poetry, fiction, film, ballet, painting, and opera. Jean Cocteau's works reflect the influence of surrealism, psychoanalysis, cubism, Catholic Religion; occasionally they were opium influenced. In his time Cocteau was a promoter of avant-garde styles and fashions. His friends included such prominent figures as Pablo Picasso, the composer Erik Satie, the writer Marcel Proust, and the Russian director Serge Diaghilev.
The First World War broke out in the summer of 1914 and during this time, Cocteau help run an ambulance service. He was not in the military but was friendly with the marines. A year later, he was arrested and returned to civilian life.
After the war Cocteau continued his association with several well known artists. He founded a publishing house called Editions de la Sirene. The company published Cocteau's writings and many musical scores of Stravinsky, Satie and a group of composers known as Les Six.

In 1915 Cocteau met Picasso and fell under his spell. "I admired his intelligence, and clung to everything he said, for he spoke little; I kept still so as not to miss a word. There were long silences and Varèse could not understand why we stared wordlessly at each other. In talking, Picasso used a visual syntax, and you could immediately see what he was saying. He liked formulas and summoned himself up in his statements as he summoned himself up and sculptured himself in objects that he immediately made tangible." (from Pablo Picasso by Pierre Cabanne, 1977) Cocteau and the poet Apollinaire were witnesses at Picasso's wedding to Olga. They held gold crowns over the heads of the bride and groom as they circles three times round the altar at the Russian Orthodox church in the rue Daru. Cocteau's friendship with Picasso continued even after the artist remarked in an interview: "He is not a poet... Jean is only a journalist." Picasso also used to say, "Cocteau is the tail of my comet".

During the next 15 years the artist's work lapsed. One reason for this is his recurring addiction to opium. His return to work in the early 1940's was primarily due to the influence of his close friend, actor Jean Marais.

Robe de Schiaparelli pour Harper's Bazaar
this is a drawing of the intermission during stage plays.

the entrance to Jean Cocteau's house

La Maison du Bailli, the old house bought by Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau in 1947, was the first home the poet owned. He was deeply pleased, at fifty-eight, finally to have, as he called it, "a frame." The house lies at the end of a cul-de-sac in the tiny village of Milly-la-Foret. A narrow doorway in a stone wall opens into a garden with a millstream and a potager beyond. The cloistered atmosphere breathes a peace worlds distant from the Sodom and Gomorrah of the old days at the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche, at Toulon, or in Paris.

"It's the house which was waiting for me. I am living in this retreat, far from the bells of Palais-Royal. It gives me an example of the absurd magnificent stubbornness of the vegetable kingdom. I rearrange the memories of former countrysides where I used to dream of Paris, as later I used to dream in Paris of taking flight. The waters of the moat and the sunshine reflect on the walls of my room their false shimmering marbles. Everywhere spring is jubilant...Jean Cocteau - La Difficulté d’être

Cocteau died of a heart attack at his chateau in Milly-la-Forêt, Essonne, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74. It is said that upon hearing of the death of his friend, the French singer Édith Piaf the previous day, he choked so badly that his heart failed. He is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. The epitaph on his gravestone set in the floor of the chapel reads: "I stay with you" ("Je reste avec vous").
Josephine Baker. Dessin a l'enore de chine
And we were so happy we did. Now where's that baguette?......yummmm.

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