Guillaume Apollinaire

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Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire foto.jpg
Photograph of Guillaume Apollinaire in spring 1916 after his shrapnel wound to the temple
Born Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki
(1880-08-26)26 August 1880
Rome, Italy
Died 9 November 1918(1918-11-09) (aged 38)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet, writer, art critic


Guillaume Apollinaire (French: [ɡijom apɔlinɛʁ]; 26 August 1880, Rome – 9 November 1918, Paris) was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic of Polish descent.

Apollinaire is considered one of the foremost poets of the early 20th century, as well as one of the most impassioned defenders of Cubism and a forefather of Surrealism. He is credited for coining the term Cubism (1911) to describe the new art movement, the term "Orphism" (1912), and the term "Surrealism" (1917) to describe the works of Erik Satie. He wrote one of the earliest works described as Surrealist, the play The Breasts of Tiresias (1917), which was used as the basis for the 1947 opera Les mamelles de Tirésias.

Two years after being wounded in World War I, he died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 at age 38.


Apollinaire (left) and André Rouveyre in 1914
Apollinaire, 1902, Cologne

Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki was born in Rome, Italy, and was raised speaking French, Italian, and Polish.[1] He emigrated to France in his late teens and adopted the name Guillaume Apollinaire. His mother, born Angelika Kostrowicka, was a Polish noblewoman born near Navahrudak, Grodno Governorate (present-day Belarus). His maternal grandfather was a general in the Russian Imperial Army who was killed in the Crimean War. Apollinaire's father is unknown but may have been Francesco Costantino Camillo Flugi d'Aspermont (born 1835-), a Graubünden aristocrat who disappeared early from Apollinaire's life. Francesco Flugi von Aspermont was a descendant of Conradin Flugi d'Aspermont (1787-1874) a poet who wrote in ladin puter (the language spoken in Engiadina ota), and perhaps also of the Minnesänger Oswald von Wolkenstein (born ~1377, died 2 August 1445) [see Les ancêtres Grisons du poète Guillaume Apollinaire, Généanet].

Apollinaire eventually moved from Rome to Paris[2] and became one of the most popular members of the artistic community of Paris (both in Montmartre and Montparnasse). His friends and collaborators in that period included Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Gertrude Stein, Max Jacob, André Salmon, André Breton, André Derain, Faik Konica, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, Alexandra Exter, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Ossip Zadkine, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Metzinger. He became romantically involved with Marie Laurencin, who is often identified as his muse.

In late 1909 or early 1910, Metzinger painted a Cubist portrait of Apollinaire. In his Vie anecdotique (October 16, 1911), the poet proudly writes: "I am honoured to be the first model of a Cubist painter, Jean Metzinger, for a portrait exhibited in 1910 at the Salon des Indépendants." It was not only the first Cubist portrait, according to Apollinaire, but it was also the first great portrait of the poet exhibited in public, prior to others by Louis Marcoussis, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Mikhail Larionov.[3]

"La Joconde est Retrouvée" (The Mona Lisa is Found), Le Petit Parisien, No. 13559, 13 December 1913

In 1911 he joined the Puteaux Group, a branch of the Cubist movement soon to be known as the Section d'Or. The opening address of the 1912 Salon de la Section d'Or—the most important pre-World War I Cubist exhibition—was given by Apollinaire.[4][5]

On 7 September 1911, police arrested and jailed him on suspicion of aiding and abetting the theft of the Mona Lisa and a number of Egyptian statuettes from the Louvre,[1][6] but released him a week later. These thefts were committed by Vincenzo Peruggia, born in Italy, to whom Apollinaire gave shelter, and Apollinaire voluntarily surrendered a number of stolen statuettes left behind by him. Apollinaire implicated his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning in the theft of the Mona Lisa, but he was also exonerated.[7] Apollinaire was active as a journalist and art critic for Le Matin, Intransigeant, and Paris Journal. He once called for the Louvre to be burnt down.


Jean Metzinger, 1911, Etude pour le portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire, graphite on paper, 48 x 31.2 cm, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Apollinaire wrote the preface for the first Cubist exposition outside of Paris; VIII Salon des Indépendants, Brussels, 1911.[8] In an open-handed preface to the catalogue of the Brussels Indépendants show, Apollinaire stated that these 'new painters' accepted the name of Cubists which has been given to them. He described Cubism as a new manifestation and high art [manifestation nouvelle et très élevée de l'art], not a system that constrains talent [non point un système contraignant les talents], and the differences which characterize not only the talents but even the styles of these artists are an obvious proof of this.[9][10] The artists involved with this new movement, according to Apollinaire, included Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, and Henri Le Fauconnier.[11] By 1912 other had joined the Cubists: Jacques Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Francis Picabia, Juan Gris, and Roger de La Fresnaye, among them.[9][12][13][14]


The term Orphism was coined by Apollinaire at the Salon de la Section d'Or in 1912, referring to the works of Robert Delaunay and František Kupka. During his lecture at the Section d'Or exhibit Apollinaire presented three of Kupka's abstract works as perfect examples of pure painting, as anti-figurative as music.[13]

In Les Peintres Cubistes, Méditations Esthétiques (1913) Apollinaire described Orphism as "the art of painting new totalities with elements that the artist does not take from visual reality, but creates entirely by himself. [...] An Orphic painter's works should convey an untroubled aesthetic pleasure, but at the same time a meaningful structure and sublime significance. According to Apollinaire Orphism represented a move towards a completely new art-form, much as music was to literature.[15]


The term Surrealism was first used by Apollinaire concerning the ballet Parade in 1917. The poet Arthur Rimbaud wanted to be a visionary, to perceive the hidden side of things within the realm of another reality. In continuity with Rimbaud, Apollinaire went in search of a hidden and mysterious reality. The term "surrealism" appeared for the first time in March 1917 (Chronologie de Dada et du surréalisme, 1917) in a letter by Apollinaire to Paul Dermée: "All things considered, I think in fact it is better to adopt surrealism than supernaturalism, which I first used" [Tout bien examiné, je crois en effet qu'il vaut mieux adopter surréalisme que surnaturalisme que j'avais d'abord employé].[16]

He described Parade as "a kind of surrealism" (une sorte de surréalisme) when he wrote the program note the following week, thus coining the word three years before Surrealism emerged as an art movement in Paris.[17]

World War I[edit]

Apollinaire fought in World War I and, in 1916, received a serious shrapnel wound to the temple, from which he would never fully recover.[2] He wrote Les Mamelles de Tirésias while recovering from this wound. During this period he coined the word Surrealism in the programme notes for Jean Cocteau's and Erik Satie's ballet Parade, first performed on 18 May 1917. He also published an artistic manifesto, L'Esprit nouveau et les poètes. Apollinaire's status as a literary critic is most famous and influential in his recognition of the Marquis de Sade, whose works were for a long time obscure, yet arising in popularity as an influence upon the Dada and Surrealist art movements going on in Montparnasse at the beginning of the twentieth century as, "The freest spirit that ever existed."

The war-weakened Apollinaire died of influenza during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.[2] He was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.


A Calligramme by Guillaume Apollinaire[18]

In 1900 he wrote his first novel Mirely, ou le petit trou pas cher (pornographic), which was eventually lost.[2] Apollinaire's first collection of poetry was L'enchanteur pourrissant (1909), but Alcools (1913) established his reputation. The poems, influenced in part by the Symbolists, juxtapose the old and the new, combining traditional poetic forms with modern imagery. In 1913, Apollinaire published the essay Les Peintres Cubistes, Méditations Esthétiques on the Cubist painters, a movement which he helped to define. He also coined the term orphism to describe a tendency towards absolute abstraction in the paintings of Robert Delaunay and others.

Muse Inspiring the Poet. Portrait of Apollinaire and Marie Laurencin, by Henri Rousseau, 1909
Apollinaire's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery

In 1907 Apollinaire published the well-known erotic novel, The Eleven Thousand Rods (Les Onze Mille Verges).[19][20] Officially banned in France until 1970, various printings of it circulated widely for many years. Apollinaire never publicly acknowledged authorship of the novel. Another erotic novel attributed to him was The Exploits of a Young Don Juan (Les exploits d'un jeune Don Juan), in which the 15-year-old hero fathers three children with various members of his entourage, including his aunt.[21][22] Apollinaire's gift to Picasso of the original 1907 manuscript was one of the artist's most prized possessions.[23] The book was made into a movie in 1987.

Shortly after his death, Mercure de France published Calligrammes, a collection of his concrete poetry (poetry in which typography and layout adds to the overall effect), and more orthodox, though still modernist poems informed by Apollinaire's experiences in the First World War and in which he often used the technique of automatic writing.

In his youth Apollinaire lived for a short while in Belgium, mastering the Walloon dialect sufficiently to write poetry, some of which has survived.


  • Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée, 1911
  • Alcools, 1913
  • Vitam impendere amori', 1917
  • Calligrammes, poèmes de la paix et de la guerre 1913-1916, 1918 (published shortly after Apollinaire's death)
  • Il y a..., 1925
  • Julie ou la rose, 1927
  • Ombre de mon amour, poems addressed to Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, 1947
  • Poèmes secrets à Madeleine, pirated edition, 1949
  • Le Guetteur mélancolique, previously unpublished works, 1952
  • Poèmes à Lou, 1955
  • Soldes, previously unpublished works, 1985
  • Et moi aussi je suis peintre, album of drawings for Calligrammes, from a private collection, published 2006



  • Les Mamelles de Tirésias, play, 1917
  • La Bréhatine, screenplay (collaboration with André Billy), 1917
  • Couleurs du temps, 1918
  • Casanova, published 1952


  • Le Théâtre Italien, illustrated encyclopedia, 1910
  • Preface, Catalogue of 8th Salon annuel du Cercle d'art Les Indépendants, Musée moderne de Bruxelles, 10 June - 3 July 1911.
  • La Vie anecdotique, Chroniques dans Le Mercure de France, 1911-1918
  • Pages d'histoire, chronique des grands siècles de France, chronicles, 1912
  • Les Peintres Cubistes, Méditations Esthétiques, 1913
  • La Peinture moderne, 1913
  • L'Antitradition futuriste, manifeste synthèse, 1913
  • Jean Metzinger à la Galerie Weill, Chroniques d'art de Guillaume Apollinaire, L'Intransigeant, Paris Journal, 27 May 1914
  • Case d'Armons, 1915
  • L'esprit nouveau et les poètes, 1918
  • Le Flâneur des Deux Rives, chronicles, 1918

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Газетные "старости" (Архив)". 1907-01-09. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d John Baxter (10 February 2009). Carnal Knowledge: Baxter's Concise Encyclopedia of Modern Sex. HarperCollins. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-06-087434-6. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Jean Metzinger, 1910, Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire, Christie's Paris, 2007.
  4. ^ La Section d'Or, Numéro spécial, 9 Octobre 1912.
  5. ^ The History and Chronology of Cubism, p. 5.
  6. ^ "Un homme de lettres connu est arrêté comme recéleur", Le Petit Parisien, 9 September 1911 (in French).
  7. ^ Richard Lacayo, "Art's Great Whodunit: The Mona Lisa Theft of 1911", Time Magazine, 27 April 2009.
  8. ^ Préface, in Catalogue du 8e Salon annuel du Cercle d'art Les Indépendants, Musée moderne de Bruxelles, 10 June - 3 July 1911.
  9. ^ a b Douglas Cooper, 1971, Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y., 1970, p. 97
  10. ^ Françoise Roberts-Jones, Chronique d'un musée: Musée royal des beaux-arts de Belgique, Bruxelles.
  11. ^ Daniel Robbins, 1985, Jean Metzinger in Retrospect, Jean Metzinger: At the Center of Cubism, University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, J. Paul Getty Trust, University of Washington Press, pp. 9-23
  12. ^ Les peintres cubistes. Première série / Guillaume Apollinaire, Méditations esthétiques, Watsonline, Thomas J. Watson Library, The Catalog of the Libraries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  13. ^ a b Guillaume Apollinaire, Les Peintres Cubistes (The Cubist Painters) published in 1913, Peter Read (Translator), University of California Press, 25 Oct. 2004
  14. ^ Herschel Browning Chipp, Peter Selz, Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, University of California Press, 1968, pp. 221-248, ISBN 0-520-01450-2
  15. ^ Hajo Düchting, Orphism, MoMA, From Grove Art Online, 2009 Oxford University Press.
  16. ^ Jean-Paul Clébert, Dictionnaire du surréalisme, A.T.P. & Le Seuil, Chamalières, p. 17, 1996.
  17. ^ Hargrove, Nancy (1998). "The Great Parade: Cocteau, Picasso, Satie, Massine, Diaghilev—and T.S. Eliot". Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 31 (1)
  18. ^ Action: Cahiers Individualistes De Philosophie Et D’art, October 1920, Blue Mountain Project, Princeton University
  19. ^ Patrick J. Kearney, A History of Erotic Literature, 1982, pp.163-4
  20. ^ Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, The last taboo: women and body hair, Manchester University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7190-7500-9, p.94
  21. ^ Neil Cornwell, The Absurd in Literature, Manchester University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7190-7410-X, pp.86-87
  22. ^ Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: the arts in France, 1885-1918: Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire, Doubleday, 1961, p. 268.
  23. ^ Golding, John (1994). Visions Of the Modern. p. 109. ISBN 0520087925. 
  • Apollinaire, Marcel Adéma, 1954
  • Apollinaire, Poet among the Painters, Francis Steegmuller, 1963, 1971, 1973
  • Apollinaire, M. Davies, 1964
  • Guillaume Apollinaire, S. Bates, 1967
  • Guillaume Apollinaire, P. Adéma, 1968
  • The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck, 1968
  • Apollinaire, R. Couffignal, 1975
  • Guillaume Apollinaire, L.C. Breuning, 1980
  • Reading Apollinaire, T. Mathews, 1987
  • Guillaume Apollinaire, J. Grimm, 1993

See also[edit]

External links[edit]