Jean Cocteau 1889-1963


Born to a prominent family outside of Paris in 1889, Jean Cocteau is widely regarded as one of the greatest French artists of the 20thCentury.  He was an artist of incredibly varied media and actively produced poetry, stage design and stage plays, films, ceramics, novels and sculpture.  Despite the breadth of his output, he referred distinctly to himself as a poet, saying that all of his work was poetry.  


In the 1920’s he became associated with Marcel Proust, Andre Gide and other literary luminaries living and working in Paris.  During the war years he met and collaborated with Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Edith Piaf and Erik Satie.  Apart from his novels, one of his most well known accomplishments is his collaboration on the ballet Parade, which was produced for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1917 with costumes and set design by Picasso, music by Satie and choreography by Léonide Massine.  The ballet was considered revolutionary for its cubist costumes and unconventional use of supplementary instruments such as milk bottles and typewriters.  The ballet led to the coining of the term “Surrealism” by Guillaume Apollinaire.


In 1958, Cocteau had his first exhibition of ceramics in Villefranche-sur-mer.  He had met Marie Madeline Jolly and Philippe Madeline the previous year and spent many hours in their ceramic studio creating over 300 different ceramic objects.  The precision and skill with which he composed the lyric women, harlequins, angels, mystic and magical characters that comprise the subject matter for these artworks are a testament to his broad artistic scope and masterful handling of each of his areas of expertise.


Jean Cocteau died of a heart attack at the age of 74 in his chateau in Milly-la-Foret, France only hours after hearing of the death of his good friend Edith Piaf.