Jean Cocteau, The Most Complete Artist Of Our Century

Jean Cocteau, The Most Complete Artist Of Our Century

Jean Cocteau

…Cocteau has been the most complete artist of our century” asserted the art critic Colin Walter.

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889 – 1963) was a French poet, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, film director, and designer. A polyhedral figure, whose creative skills found expression in the most diverse artistic fields, Cocteau, fatherless before even turning ten years old, is an extremely complex character that has been the study subject of the international critique for decades. The writer André Fraigneau observes that “in chronological order, the designer Cocteau precedes the poet Cocteau". As a matter of fact, since his childhood, Cocteau has demonstrated the precocious bloom of his talent for drawing.

His Art Influences

The “magical-like sense of resemblance”, which has been pursued by the artist since his earliest drawings, must have developed from his observance of Sem (Georges Gourçat) and Leonetto Cappiello’s caricatures. Following their examples, Cocteau cultivates the synthetic intensity of line in order to build a firstly graphic and secondly plastic artwork, utterly aiming at representing the human figure, be it a portrait or an imaginary character. Slightly touching on avant-gardes, Cubism, and metaphysics, yet without adhering to any of them, Jean Cocteau draws deep inspiration from two of the most important figures of the 20th-century artistic landscape: Picasso and de Chirico.

His Eroticism

According to Cocteau, drawing is nothing but animated writing. One of the most celebrated graphic collections of Jean Cocteau consists of erotic drawings contained inside the “White Book”, written in 1927 and published the following year, in an edition that does not present the name of the author, nor that of the publisher. William A. Emboden writes about Cocteau’s art with regard to the erotic sphere: “The deeply self-centered eroticism in the “White Book” is characteristic of adolescent sexuality. For Cocteau, it thus very likely stands for compensating the impotence caused by his excessive consumption of opium. His erotic drawings are extremely explicit, yet they lack the transcendental imagination and fantasy of his previous illustrations”.

His relation with de Chirico

Still in the 1920s, simultaneously with the “White Book”, Cocteau writes the “Laic Mystery”, a fascinating treaty about Giorgio de Chirico’s art, whose latest Surrealist artworks had just been criticized by one of Breton’s articles. The support and esteem demonstrated by the French artist were much appreciated by de Chirico, who realized a series of lithographs for his book “Mythology” a few years later.

The importance of the drawing line

In 1928, the Galerie des Quatre Chemins, by then Cocteau’s gallery for both the exhibitions and the publications of the artist, hosts an exhibition titled “Drawings of a sleeper”. These twenty-five drawings, although perfectly exemplifying Jean Cocteau’s sensitivity for the art of lines, lack a sort of spontaneity that will instead characterize later illustrations of a work dated 1930 and titled “Opium”.

As concerns the importance that the French artist attributed to the line, defined by him as a living continuumof all its paths, his own words are worthy of mention: “the line makes a continuous note that not the ear or the eye perceive. It is the style of the soul, in a certain way, and if this line ceases to live in itself, if it does not draw but an arabesque, the soul is absent…”.

Also present in the manifold production of the French artist are wall decorations, where the strong and fluent drawing line become the most personal and distinctive trait of his art.

Discover the outstanding collection of Cocteau’s works on