Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Creativity of Jean Cocteau

At night-time, the new Musee Jean Cocteau looks like some predatory alien on the seafront at Menton.

I was never greatly ‘into’ Jean Cocteau – until I visited Menton many years ago.

At that time, a building, called ’Le Bastion’ (once a customs house on the town’s harbour) housed a number of his works. Alan’s cousin, Marcel, had once built a float in the shape of the ‘Bastion’ – entirely of oranges and lemons – for the annual ‘Fête du Citron’, for which Menton is famous.

Looking towards Menton from the museum.
But it was the construction of a new museum on the sea front - specifically to house a collection of Jean Cocteau’s work – from drawings and paintings to theatre design, films and imagery, to his first love, poetry, that encouraged me to learn more about him.

Cocteau did it all – painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, cinema, theatre, novels, poetry, song, jazz drumming, choreography, fashion design – even training boxers – you name it!

The museum, which opened only about five years ago, sits like a predatory multi-legged spider on the sea front, not far from the old covered market hall. I’m sure he would have loved its design.

Born in 1889, Cocteau developed an early love of cinema, drawing and writing poetry, publishing numerous books of his poems. He mixed in elite company, including Proust, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, artists such as Braque, Derain, Picasso, Gris and Modigliani.
Cocteau in 1929 by Germaine Krull.

In the 1920s he moved to the south of France. He loved Menton, but also the entire region. He has works all along the coast including an outdoor theatre he designed at Cap d’Ail, murals at Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat.

Cocteau designed not only the murals on the walls and ceiling of the ‘Wedding Room’ at the Menton Town Hall, but also conceived the carpet with its leopard motifs, the red velvet upholstered chairs and the wrought iron candelabras.

He sketched portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, created posters for the Ballet Russe, undertook newspaper illustrations, many self portraits – often together with randomly-placed words which he sent to friends as letters. He also collaborated with other artists.

Cocteau’s last film, ‘The Testament of Orpheus’ – an almost surreal film – was partly shot in the quarries at Les Baux with photographer Lucien Clergue. Cocteau had a lifelong fascination with the legend of Orpheus.

Although the museum holds 152 of his drawings, Cocteau always saw himself primarily as a poet.

He died on October 11 1963, only hours after hearing of the death of Edith Piaf earlier the same day.

The Musée Jean Cocteau houses Cocteau works collected by Séverin Wunderman and is open every day except Tuesdays.
LEFT: Innamorati, The Sleeping Fisherman 1961 by Jean Cocteau.

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