Arthur Cravan

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Arthur Cravan – Jean-Paul-Louis Lespoir

Arthur Cravan (born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd[1] on 22 May 1887, Lausanne, Switzerland) was known as a pugilist, a poet, a larger-than-life character, and an idol of the Dada and Surrealism movements. He was the second son of Otho Holland Lloyd and Hélène Clara St. Clair. His brother Otho was a painter and photographer married to the Russian émigré artist Olga Sacharoff.[2] His father's sister, Constance Mary Lloyd, was married to Irish poet Oscar Wilde.[3] He changed his name to Cravan in 1912 in honour of his fiancée Renée Bouchet, who was born in the small village of Cravans in the department of Charente-Maritime in western France. Why he chose the name Arthur remains unclear.

Cravan was last seen at Salina Cruz, Mexico in 1918[4] and most likely drowned in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico in November 1918.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Cravan was born and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, then at an English military academy from which he was expelled after spanking a teacher.[citation needed] After his schooling, during World War I, he travelled throughout Europe and America using a variety of passports and documents, some of them forged.[5] He declared no single nationality and claimed instead to be "a citizen of 20 countries".


Cravan set out to promote himself as an eccentric and an art critic, though his interest was showing off a powerful, striking personal style rather than discussing art. He staged public spectacles and stunts with himself at the centre, once acting on the front of a line of carts where he paraded his skills as a boxer and singer. Later in life he would box the legendary Jack Johnson. Cravan was very skilled at looking for the striking and shocking, which had its roots in the contemporary cult of the young man of action (athletes, soldiers, flamboyant artists) but strongly prefigured dadaism. The lasting legacy of Arthur Cravan is the modern medium of "conceptual art" that he invented and Duchamp carried into art history. Performance Art today is the great grand child of Conceptual Art—i.e. living one's life as a work of art. Even if this means a life of poverty, chaos and being knocked out by the world champ, Jack Johnson.

From 1911 to 1915 he published a critical magazine, Maintenant! ("Now!") which appeared in five issues. It was gathered together and reprinted by Eric Losfeld in 1971 as J'étais Cigare in the dadaist collection "Le Désordre".[6] The magazine was designed to cause sensation and in a piece about the 1912 arts salon he criticised a self-portrait by Marie Laurencin, remarks which drove her lover and influential modernist critic and poet, the beloved Guillaume Apollinaire into a fury and a bid for a duel. The jury is out on whether this duel ever happened, though Apollinaire was depicted more than once with a sling on his arm around that time. But his rough vibrant poetry, and provocative, anarchistic lectures and public appearances (often degenerating into drunken brawls) also earned him the admiration of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, André Breton, and other young artists and intellectuals. Arthur Cravan is labeled one of the most influential poets of the early 20th Century.

After the First World War began, Cravan left Paris to avoid being drafted into military service.[6] On a stopover in the Canary Islands a boxing match was arranged between Cravan and the reigning world champion Jack Johnson to raise money for Cravan's passage to the United States. Posters for the match touted Cravan as "European champion." Johnson, who didn't know who the man was, knocked Cravan out solidly and in his autobiography noted that Cravan must have been out of training.

Arthur Cravan and Jack Johnson poster, 1916

In retrospect, the incident has been cited as an archetypal example of the "anyone can reinvent himself" philosophy found in later artistic movements—Cravan didn't need to be a professional boxer to lay a claim on being world champion. His personal style involved continuous re-invention of his public persona, and outrageous statements and boasts. His pride in being the nephew of Oscar Wilde even produced hoaxes—documents and poems—Cravan wrote and then signed "Oscar Wilde". In 1913 he published an article in his self-edited review Maintenant claiming that his uncle was still alive and had visited him in Paris. The New York Times published the rumour, even though Cravan and Wilde never met.

After arriving in New York in 1914, Cravan met the poet Mina Loy in 1917, who considered him the love of her life. Together, despite Cravan's links to Dada, they refused to identify with any movement, fought against war and all notions of conventionality, then moved on to Mexico where they married.

When the United States entered the war, as draft-dodgers they planned a trip from Mexico to Argentina[7] and Cravan set out alone on a sailboat they had fixed up in the Mexican town of Salina Cruz.[8] Without enough money for both of them to book passage on the same vessel, and with Loy pregnant, she took the trip on a regular ship, always hoping Cravan would resurface.[9] Cravan never arrived[10] and it is presumed that he capsized and drowned in a storm raging at sea in the following days.[11] Loy gave birth to their daughter in Hampstead, England in 1919, and named her Fabienne Cravan Lloyd after her father.


A biographical graphic novel on the life of Arthur Cravan has been published by Dark Horse Comics. Titled Cravan and written by the company publisher, Mike Richardson, illustrated by Rick Geary, this biography puts forth the idea that Arthur Cravan and B. Traven might be one and the same.


  • "Every great artist has the sense of provocation." -Or- Every great artist IS a provacature!

Popular culture[edit]

Arthur Cravan features as the focus for the novel Last Stop Salina Cruz (2007) by British novelist David Lalé. The novel tells the story of a young man following in the footpaths of the modernist legend across France, Spain, USA, Mexico and finally Salina Cruz.

  • Review of Last Stop Salina Cruz on The Independent
  • Last Stop Salina Cruz on Amazon
  • Living Poets as literary inspiration on the Guardian
  • "Shadow Box" by Antonia Logue (Bloomsbury paperbacks 2000) – A fictional version of the interweaving of the lives of Cravan, Loy and Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
  • The 2002 film "Cravan vs. Cravan" by Spanish director Isaki Lacuesta traces Cravan's history through re-enactments featuring boxer and filmmaker Frank Nicotra.

Arthur Cravan is the subject of the track "Song Without Any End" on Brian Ritchie's 1990 album I See a Noise.



  1. ^ William S. Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 245
  2. ^ New York, Perls Galleries, Olga Sacharoff, Otho Loyd: Two Parisian Painters [exh. cat.], 27 February ‒ 18 March 1939, n.p.
  3. ^ Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, "Arthur Cravan and American Dada," trans. Maria Jolas, in The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1951), 14.
  4. ^ Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, 200
  5. ^ Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, trans. David Britt (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1965), 85.
  6. ^ a b Dictionnaire des Littératures de langue Francaise – Paris, Bordas, 1987, vol. 1, p.603
  7. ^ Buffet-Picabia, "Arthur Cravan and American Dada", 17.
  8. ^ Bradley, Amanda Jane, "Mina Loy: Extravagant Poetic, Exaggerated Life”, 2008, St. Louis, Mo., pp. 37–39.
  9. ^ Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, 86.
  10. ^ Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, 200.
  11. ^ on his disappearance in Dictionnaire des Littératures de langue Francaise – Paris, Bordas, 1987, vol. 1, p.603

External links[edit]