Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau
5 July 1889
|Died||11 October 1963 (aged 74)|
|Other names||The Frivolous Prince|
|French literary history|
Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (UK: //, US: //, French: [ʒɑ̃ moʁis øʒɛn klemɑ̃ kɔkto]; 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist and critic. He was one of the foremost creatives of the surrealist, avant-garde, and Dadaist movements; and one of the most influential figures in early 20th-century art as a whole. The National Observer suggested that, “of the artistic generation whose daring gave birth to Twentieth Century Art, Cocteau came closest to being a Renaissance man.”
He is best known for his novels Le Grand Écart (1923), Le Livre blanc (1928), and Les Enfants Terribles (1929); the stage plays La Voix Humaine (1930), La Machine Infernale (1934), Les Parents terribles (1938), La Machine à écrire (1941), and L'Aigle à deux têtes (1946); and the films The Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Orpheus (1950), and Testament of Orpheus (1960), which alongside Blood of a Poet and Orpheus constitute the so-called Orphic Trilogy. He was described as "one of [the] avant-garde's most successful and influential filmmakers" by AllMovie. Cocteau, according to Annette Insdorf, “left behind a body of work unequalled for its variety of artistic expression.”
Though his body of work encompassed many different mediums, Cocteau insisted on calling himself a poet, classifying the great variety of his works – poems, novels, plays, essays, drawings, films – as "poésie", "poésie de roman", "poésie de thêatre", "poésie critique", "poésie graphique" and "poésie cinématographique".
Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, a town near Paris, to Georges Cocteau and his wife, Eugénie Lecomte: a socially prominent Parisian family. His father, a lawyer and amateur painter, committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. From 1900 to 1904, Cocteau attended the Lycée Condorcet where he met and began a relationship with schoolmate Pierre Dargelos, who would reappear throughout Cocteau's work, "John Cocteau: Erotic Drawings." He left home at fifteen. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at nineteen. Cocteau soon became known in Bohemian artistic circles as The Frivolous Prince, the title of a volume he published at twenty-two. Edith Wharton described him as a man "to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City..."
In his early twenties, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Maurice Barrès. In 1912, he collaborated with Léon Bakst on Le Dieu bleu for the Ballets Russes; the principal dancers being Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. During World War I, Cocteau served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev persuaded Cocteau to write a scenario for a ballet, which resulted in Parade in 1917. It was produced by Diaghilev, with sets by Picasso, the libretto by Apollinaire and the music by Erik Satie. "If it had not been for Apollinaire in uniform," wrote Cocteau, "with his skull shaved, the scar on his temple and the bandage around his head, women would have gouged our eyes out with hairpins."
An important exponent of avant-garde art, Cocteau had great influence on the work of others, including a group of composers known as Les six. In the early twenties, he and other members of Les six frequented a wildly popular bar named Le Boeuf sur le Toit, a name that Cocteau himself had a hand in picking. The popularity was due in no small measure to the presence of Cocteau and his friends.
Friendship with Raymond Radiguet
In 1918 he met the French poet Raymond Radiguet. They collaborated extensively, socialized, and undertook many journeys and vacations together. Cocteau also got Radiguet exempted from military service. Admiring of Radiguet's great literary talent, Cocteau promoted his friend's works in his artistic circle and arranged for the publication by Grasset of Le Diable au corps (a largely autobiographical story of an adulterous relationship between a married woman and a younger man), exerting his influence to have the novel awarded the "Nouveau Monde" literary prize. Some contemporaries and later commentators thought there might have been a romantic component to their friendship. Cocteau himself was aware of this perception, and worked earnestly to dispel the notion that their relationship was sexual in nature.
There is disagreement over Cocteau's reaction to Radiguet's sudden death in 1923, with some claiming that it left him stunned, despondent and prey to opium addiction. Opponents of that interpretation point out that he did not attend the funeral (he generally did not attend funerals) and immediately left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlo. Cocteau himself much later characterised his reaction as one of "stupor and disgust." His opium addiction at the time, Cocteau said, was only coincidental, due to a chance meeting with Louis Laloy, the administrator of the Monte Carlo Opera. Cocteau's opium use and his efforts to stop profoundly changed his literary style. His most notable book, Les Enfants Terribles, was written in a week during a strenuous opium weaning. In Opium: Journal of drug rehabilitation, he recounts the experience of his recovery from opium addiction in 1929. His account, which includes vivid pen-and-ink illustrations, alternates between his moment-to-moment experiences of drug withdrawal and his current thoughts about people and events in his world. Cocteau was supported throughout his recovery by his friend and correspondent, Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. Under Maritain's influence Cocteau made a temporary return to the sacraments of the Catholic Church. He again returned to the Church later in life and undertook a number of religious art projects.
On 15 June 1926 Cocteau's play Orphée was staged in Paris. It was quickly followed by an exhibition of drawings and "constructions" called Poésie plastique–objets, dessins. Cocteau wrote the libretto for Igor Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus rex, which had its original performance in the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris on 30 May 1927. In 1929 one of his most celebrated and well known works, the novel Les Enfants terribles was published.
In 1930 Cocteau made his first film The Blood of a Poet, publicly shown in 1932. Though now generally accepted as a surrealist film, the surrealists themselves did not accept it as a truly surrealist work. Although this is one of Cocteau's best known works, his 1930s are notable rather for a number of stage plays, above all La Voix humaine and Les Parents terribles, which was a popular success. His 1934 play La Machine infernale was Cocteau's stage version of the Oedipus legend and is considered to be his greatest work for the theater. During this period Cocteau also published two volumes of journalism, including Mon Premier Voyage: Tour du Monde en 80 jours, a neo-Jules Verne around the world travel reportage he made for the newspaper Paris-Soir.
Throughout his life, Cocteau tried to maintain a distance from political movements, confessing to a friend that "my politics are non-existent." According to Claude Arnaud, from the 1920s on, Cocteau's only deeply held political convictions were a marked pacifism and antiracism. He praised the French republic for serving as a haven for the persecuted, and applauded Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica as a cross that "Franco would always carry on his shoulder." In 1940, Cocteau signed a petition circulated by the Ligue internationale contre l'antisémitisme which protested the rise of racism and antisemitism in France, and declared himself "ashamed of his white skin" after witnessing the plight of colonized peoples during his travels.
Although in 1938 Cocteau had compared Adolf Hitler to an evil demiurge who wished to perpetrate a Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre against Jews, his friend Arno Breker convinced him that Hitler was a pacifist and patron of the arts with France's best interests in mind. During the Nazi occupation of France, he was in a "round-table" of French and German intellectuals who met at the Georges V Hotel in Paris, including Cocteau, the writers Ernst Jünger, Paul Morand and Henry Millon de Montherlant, the publisher Gaston Gallimard and the Nazi legal scholar Carl Schmitt. In his diary, Cocteau accused France of disrespect towards Hitler and speculated on the Führer's sexuality. Cocteau effusively praised Breker's sculptures in an article entitled 'Salut à Breker' published in 1942. This piece caused him to be arraigned on charges of collaboration after the war, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing and had used his contacts to his failed attempt to save friends such as Max Jacob. Later, after growing closer with communists such as Louis Aragon, Cocteau would name Joseph Stalin as "the only great politician of the era."
Cocteau's later years are mostly associated with his films. Cocteau's films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing the avant-garde into French cinema and influenced to a certain degree the upcoming French New Wave genre.
Following The Blood of a Poet (1930), his best known films include Beauty and the Beast (1946), Les Parents terribles (1948), and Orpheus (1949). His final film, Le Testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus) (1960), featured appearances by Picasso and matador Luis Miguel Dominguín, along with Yul Brynner, who also helped finance the film.
In 1945 Cocteau was one of several designers who created sets for the Théâtre de la Mode. He drew inspiration from filmmaker René Clair while making Tribute to René Clair: I Married a Witch. The maquette is described in his "Journal 1942–1945," in his entry for 12 February 1945:
I saw the model of my set. Fashion bores me, but I am amused by the set and fashion placed together. It is a smoldering maid's room. One discovers an aerial view of Paris through the wall and ceiling holes. It creates vertigo. On the iron bed lies a fainted bride. Behind her stand several dismayed ladies. On the right, a very elegant lady washes her hands in a flophouse basin. Through the unhinged door on the left, a lady enters with raised arms. Others are pushed against the walls. The vision provoking this catastrophe is a bride-witch astride a broom, flying through the ceiling, her hair and train streaming.
Jean Cocteau never hid his homosexuality. He was the author of the mildly homoerotic and semi-autobiographical Le Livre blanc (translated as The White Paper or The White Book), published anonymously in 1928. He never repudiated its authorship and a later edition of the novel features his foreword and drawings. The novel begins:
As far back as I can remember, and even at an age when the mind does not yet influence the senses, I find traces of my love of boys. I have always loved the strong sex that I find legitimate to call the fair sex. My misfortunes came from a society that condemns the rare as a crime and forces us to reform our inclinations.
Frequently his work, either literary (Les enfants terribles), graphic (erotic drawings, book illustration, paintings) or cinematographic (The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, Beauty and the Beast), is pervaded with homosexual undertones, homoerotic imagery/symbolism or camp. In 1947 Paul Morihien published a clandestine edition of Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet, featuring 29 very explicit erotic drawings by Cocteau. In recent years several albums of Cocteau's homoerotica have been available to the general public.
In the 1930s, Cocteau is rumoured to have had a very brief affair with Princess Natalie Paley, the daughter of a Romanov Grand Duke and herself a sometime actress, model, and former wife of couturier Lucien Lelong.
Cocteau's longest-lasting relationships were with French actors Jean Marais and Édouard Dermit, whom Cocteau formally adopted. Cocteau cast Marais in The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Ruy Blas (1947), and Orpheus (1949).
Cocteau died of a heart attack at his château in Milly-la-Forêt, Essonne, France, on 11 October 1963 at the age of 74. His friend, French singer Édith Piaf, died the day before but that was announced on the morning of Cocteau's day of death; it has been said, in a story which is almost certainly apocryphal, that his heart failed upon hearing of Piaf's death. Cocteau's health had already been in decline for several months, and he had previously had a severe heart attack on 22 April 1963. A more plausible suggestion for the reason behind this decline in health has been proposed by author Roger Peyrefitte, who notes that Cocteau had been devastated by a breach with his longtime friend, socialite and notable patron Francine Weisweiller, as a result of an affair she had been having with a minor writer. Weisweiller and Cocteau did not reconcile until shortly before Cocteau's death.
According to his wishes Cocteau 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").
Honours and awards
During his life, Cocteau was commander of the Legion of Honor, Member of the Mallarmé Academy, German Academy (Berlin), American Academy, Mark Twain (U.S.A) Academy, Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival, Honorary President of the France-Hungary Association and President of the Jazz Academy and of the Academy of the Disc.
|Year||Original title||English title|
|1932||Le Sang d'un poète||The Blood of a Poet|
|1946||La Belle et la Bête||The Beauty and the Beast|
|1948||L'Aigle à deux têtes||The Eagle with Two Heads|
|Les Parents terribles||The Terrible Parents, a.k.a. The Storm Within|
|1960||Le Testament d'Orphée||The Testament of Orpheus|
- 1909: La Lampe d'Aladin
- 1910: Le Prince frivole
- 1912: La Danse de Sophocle
- 1919: Ode à Picasso – Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance
- 1920: Escale. Poésies (1917–1920)
- 1922: Vocabulaire
- 1923: La Rose de François – Plain-Chant
- 1925: Cri écrit
- 1926: L'Ange Heurtebise
- 1927: Opéra
- 1934: Mythologie
- 1939: Énigmes
- 1941: Allégories
- 1945: Léone
- 1946: La Crucifixion
- 1948: Poèmes
- 1952: Le Chiffre sept – La Nappe du Catalan (in collaboration with Georges Hugnet)
- 1953: Dentelles d'éternité – Appoggiatures
- 1954: Clair-obscur
- 1958: Paraprosodies
- 1961: Cérémonial espagnol du Phénix – La Partie d'échecs
- 1962: Le Requiem
- 1968: Faire-Part (posthume)
- 1917: Parade, ballet (music by Erik Satie, choreography by Léonide Massine)
- 1921: Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, ballet (music by Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre)
- 1922: Antigone
- 1924: Roméo et Juliette
- 1925: Orphée
- 1927: Oedipus Rex, opera-oratorio (music by Igor Stravinsky)
- 1930: La Voix humaine
- 1934: La Machine infernale
- 1936: L'École des veuves
- 1937: Œdipe-roi. Les Chevaliers de la Table ronde, premiere at the Théâtre Antoine
- 1938: Les Parents terribles, premiere at the Théâtre Antoine
- 1940: Les Monstres sacrés
- 1941: La Machine à écrire
- 1943: Renaud et Armide. L'Épouse injustement soupçonnée
- 1944: L'Aigle à deux têtes
- 1946: Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, ballet by Roland Petit
- 1948: Théâtre I and II
- 1951: Bacchus
- 1960: Nouveau théâtre de poche
- 1962: L'Impromptu du Palais-Royal
- 1971: Le Gendarme incompris (in collaboration with Raymond Radiguet and Francis Poulenc)
Poetry and criticism
- 1918: Le Coq et l'Arlequin
- 1920: Carte blanche
- 1922: Le Secret professionnel
- 1926: Le Rappel à l'ordre – Lettre à Jacques Maritain – Le Numéro Barbette
- 1930: Opium
- 1932: Essai de critique indirecte
- 1935: Portraits-Souvenir
- 1937: Mon premier voyage (Around the World in 80 Days)
- 1943: Le Greco
- 1946: La Mort et les Statues (photos by Pierre Jahan)
- 1947: Le Foyer des artistes – La Difficulté d'être
- 1949: Lettres aux Américains – Reines de la France
- 1951: Jean Marais – A Discussion about Cinematography (with André Fraigneau)
- 1952: Gide vivant
- 1953: Journal d'un inconnu. Démarche d'un poète
- 1955: Colette (Discourse on the reception at the Royal Academy of Belgium) – Discourse on the reception at the Académie Française
- 1956: Discours d'Oxford
- 1957: Entretiens sur le musée de Dresde (with Louis Aragon) – La Corrida du 1er mai
- 1950: Poésie critique I
- 1960: Poésie critique II
- 1962: Le Cordon ombilical
- 1963: La Comtesse de Noailles, oui et non
- 1964: Portraits-Souvenir (posthumous; A discussion with Roger Stéphane)
- 1965: Entretiens avec André Fraigneau (posthumous)
- 1973: Jean Cocteau par Jean Cocteau (posthumous; A discussion with William Fielfield)
- 1973: Du cinématographe (posthumous). Entretiens sur le cinématographe (posthumous)
- 1935–1938 (posthumous)
- 1925: Jean Cocteau fait du cinéma lost
- 1930: Le Sang d'un poète
- 1946: La Belle et la Bête
- 1948: L'Aigle à deux têtes
- 1948: Les Parents terribles
- 1950: Orphée
- 1950: Coriolan unreleased home movie
- 1952: La Villa Santo-Sospir
- 1955: L'Amour sous l'électrode
- 1957: 8 × 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements
- 1960: Le Testament d'Orphée
- 1943: L'Éternel Retour directed by Jean Delannoy
- 1944: Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne directed by Robert Bresson
- 1948: Ruy Blas directed by Pierre Billon
- 1950: Les Enfants terribles directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, script by Jean Cocteau based on his novel
- 1951: La Couronne Noire directed by Luis Saslavsky
- 1961: La Princesse de Clèves directed by Jean Delannoy
- 1965: Thomas l'imposteur directed by Georges Franju, script by Jean Cocteau based on his novel
Director of Photography
- 1924: Dessins
- 1925: Le Mystère de Jean l'oiseleur
- 1926: Maison de santé
- 1929: 25 dessins d'un dormeur
- 1935: 60 designs for Les Enfants Terribles
- 1940: Le combattant
- 1941: Drawings in the margins of Chevaliers de la Table ronde
- 1948: Drôle de ménage
- 1957: La Chapelle Saint-Pierre, Villefranche-sur-Mer
- 1958: La Salle des mariages, City Hall of Menton – La Chapelle Saint-Pierre (lithographies)
- 1958: Un Arlequin (The Harlequin), https://www.artsy.net/artwork/jean-cocteau-un-arlequin-the-harlequin-1
- 1959: Gondol des morts
- 1960: Chapelle Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, Milly-la-Forêt
- 1960: Stained glass windows of the Church of Saint Maximin, Metz, France[circular reference]
- Colette par Jean Cocteau, discours de réception à l'Académie Royale de Belgique, Ducretet-Thomson 300 V 078 St.
- Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel and Portraits-Souvenir, La Voix de l'Auteur LVA 13
- Plain-chant by Jean Marais, extracts from the piece Orphée by Jean-Pierre Aumont, Michel Bouquet, Monique Mélinand, Les Parents terribles by Yvonne de Bray and Jean Marais, L'Aigle à deux têtes par Edwige Feuillère and Jean Marais, L'Encyclopédie Sonore 320 E 874, 1971
- Collection of three vinyl recordings of Jean Cocteau including La Voix humaine by Simone Signoret, 18 songs composed by Louis Bessières, Bee Michelin and Renaud Marx, on double-piano Paul Castanier, Le Discours de réception à l'Académie française, Jacques Canetti JC1, 1984
- Derniers propos à bâtons rompus avec Jean Cocteau, 16 September 1963 à Milly-la-Forêt, Bel Air 311035
- Les Enfants terribles, radio version with Jean Marais, Josette Day, Silvia Monfort and Jean Cocteau, CD Phonurgia Nova ISBN 2-908325-07-1, 1992
- Anthology, 4 CD containing numerous poems and texts read by the author, Anna la bonne, La Dame de Monte-Carlo and Mes sœurs, n'aimez pas les marins by Marianne Oswald, Le Bel Indifférent by Edith Piaf, La Voix humaine by Berthe Bovy, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel with Jean Le Poulain, Jacques Charon and Jean Cocteau, discourse on the reception at the Académie française, with extracts from Les Parents terribles, La Machine infernale, pieces from Parade on piano with two hands by Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc, Frémeaux & Associés FA 064, 1997
- Poems by Jean Cocteau read by the author, CD EMI 8551082, 1997
- Hommage à Jean Cocteau, mélodies d'Henri Sauguet, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Erik Satie, Jean Wiener, Max Jacob, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Delage, Georges Auric, Guy Sacre, by Jean-François Gardeil (baritone) and Billy Eidi (piano), CD Adda 581177, 1989
- Le Testament d'Orphée, journal sonore, by Roger Pillaudin, 2 CD INA / Radio France 211788, 1998
- 1946: La Belle et la Bête (film journal)
- 1949: Maalesh (journal of a stage production)
- 1983: Le Passé défini (posthumous)
- 1989: Journal, 1942–1945
- 1960: Marianne de Cocteau
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Monsieur, I have just received your letter and must reply despite my regret at being unable to explain the inexplicable. It is possible that my friendship for your son and my deep admiration for his gifts (which are becoming increasingly apparent) are of an uncommon intensity, and that from the outside it is hard to make out how far my feelings go. His literary future is of primary consideration with me: he is a kind of prodigy. Scandal would spoil all this freshness. You cannot possibly believe for a second that I do not try to avoid that by all the means in my power
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- Maison Jean Cocteau – Cocteau's former home