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Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau was a born visual artist. Even in childhood, he possessed an eye that missed nothing and an imagination that pierced together his perceptions in a highly personnel way. The caricatures the eleven-year-old Jean began as early as 1900 in letters to his grandparents actually predate that mastery of the written and spoken word which Cocteau would later make the dominant characteristic of his work. Yet throughout his long career images were always a strong feature of what developed into an exceedingly protean oeuvre. For Cocteau, visual response came first, abstract thought second. It is no surprising, therefore, that in the last fifteen years of his life the poet turned increasingly toward film as a mode of expression.

Jean Cocteau - Swan Ceramic

Jean Cocteau achieved a considerable graphic and plastic range, running as it does from pencil, crayon, or pen-and-ink drawings to posters, wall decorations, lithographs, ceramics, and tapesteries. He became interested in color through his pastels of 1948, but did not take up easel painting until 1950, when he was sixty. "To paint without being a born painter is not easy," Cocteau ruefully observed. Unencumbered by formal training, he freely experimented with a bewildering variety of raw materials: pipe cleaners, hairpins, candles, matches, thumbtacks, lumps of sugar, and stars made of pasta, among other things. "From morning to night," he wrote his mother, "I glue, I cut out, I splash paint, I smear pastels, I melt walnut stain, I mix lipstick with sealing wax." Such explorations were more than mere trucage; they gave form to Cocteau's theory that commonplace objects were containers of hidden beauty, which the artist, by of his privileged gifts, could bring out.

Jean Cocteau - Manipulated detail from Das Haus book

The boyhood caricatures with which Jean Cocteau delighted friends and family quickly revealed his genius for using an extreme economy of means to capture the essence of a specific human reality. Beyond that, the drawings showed an intuitive affinity for line and a talent for suggesting mass through line alone, unaided by shading or halftones. Temperamentally, Cocteau was well suited to the speed, weightlessness, and flow of line, rather than to more static forms of image-making. The critic Michael Brenson speaks of Jean Cocteau, together with Picasso and the Surrealist Andre Masson, as an artist "who had a particularly strong feeling for the potential drama of ink on paper." With its abstract reductiveness, the kind of caricature at which Cocteau excelled remains strinkingly contemporary, and his work belongs to the great tradition flowing from Daumier, de Zayas, Sem and Cappiello, the latter pair Cocteau's own avowed models. For the most part, the poet made his caricatures affectionally ironic in tone. Only his Eugene series in Le Potomak turn bitter and vindictive. The French critic Milorad has called these distinctive cartoons "the first automatic drawings," since they materialized from unconscious sources several years before the Surrealists extended the Dadaists' automatic processes to drawing by hand. Jean Cocteau said the Eugenes proved to him that art was born out of a marriage between conscious and unconscious.

Jean Cocteau - Ceramic

Pierre Chanel, archivist and editor of Cocteliana, rightly concludes that the poet's drawing is the child of his handwriting. Jean Cocteau himself stressed that calligraphic relationship by saying: "Poets don't draw.They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently." Line was precious to Jean Cocteau. "It is life," he wrote. "A line must live at each point along its course in such a way that the artist's presence makes itself felt above that of the model. ... It is, in a way, the soul's style, and if the line ceases to have a life of its own, if it only describes an arabesque, the soul is missing and the writing dies." It was perhaps this underlying concept that helped Jean Cocteau to seize, beyond mere likeness, the moral truth of the human faces and figures that were his usual models. The stunning charcoal-and-flour portrait he made of Colette is a prime example. But his own visage fascinated Jean Cocteau more that anyone else's, and he studied it constantly in the looking glass, where he say age "working like a beehive". After Raymond Radiguet 's death he sat for days staring into a mirror in the Hotel Welcome at Villefranche, drawing his own face over and over again. The extraordinary illustrations Jean Cocteau did for his books Maison de Sante and Opium , drawn during his detoxification cures, were, in effect, self-portraits of a bizarre order.

Jean Cocteau - Ceramic

As Jean Cocteau matured his mastery of draftsmanship showed more eloquently in a lyric movement of line and in dynamic, rhythmic compositions. These qualities not only appear in his church murals, lithographs, and erotic drawings, but also direct the flow of images in his motion pictures. They affirm the French maxim: "Style is the man." Jean Cocteau 's sense of style and design was widely appreciated by his peers. Schiaparelli , Chanel, and other fashion leaders tried to persuade the poet to design clothes for them; publishers often asked him to illustrate his won books and those of other authors; and the French government, after World War II, commissioned him to design a postage stamp.

Drawing and painting, moeover, had a therapeutic side for Jean Cocteau. "I relax from writing," he said, "by working with my hands, by painting or drawing: I relax from painting by writing."It is not hard to understand that in the turbulent periods of his life, rocked by scandal, broken loves, and professional disappointments, Jean Cocteau found comfort in forever returning to his first passion: drawing. That he did so is fortunate for those who come after him, for the ensemble of his drawings not only holds a mirror up to a good slice of the glittering life he did so much to animate, but also registeres the spontaneous, light-hearted, eclectic spirit of his times.




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Jean Cocteau - Painting Slideshow


Below are thumbnails of pictures that are currently in the Jean Cocteau Gallery. To see all of the images click on the first image and after 2 minutes of viewing each page you will automatically be taken to the next.

To view one of the picturs just click on the favoured thumbnail. You will then be automatically taken to the next in the slideshow after 2 minutes.

Please note: none of the images in the slideshow are for sale.


Jean Cocteau - Drawing 101

Jean Cocteau - Drawing 202 Jean Cocteau - Drawing 303

Jean Cocteau - Drawing 404 Jean Cocteau - Drawing 505 Jean Cocteau - Drawing 606

Jean Cocteau - Drawing 707 Jean Cocteau - Painting 808 Jean Cocteau - Drawing 909

Jean Cocteau - Drawing 1010 Jean Cocteau - Drawing 1111

Jean Cocteau - Drawing 1212




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