Jean Cocteau

Article excerpt


For such a bold innovator in ballet, film, theater, and creative writing, Jean Cocteau was a surprisingly tame draftsman. Apart from a couple of early flirtations with Cubism, an amazingly grotesque c. 1920 caricature of his friend Proust, and the bizarre Self-Portrait, Multiplied Under the Effect of Opium, c. 1925-27, Cocteau's modest drawings are mostly reserved, linear, and rather academic--imagine Ingres without the fanatical lucidity or Neoclassical Picasso without the bite. This exhibition documented almost sixty years' worth of Cocteau's work on paper, supplemented by photographs and posters from his films and plays as well as portraits of him by other artists.

By presenting this show at the Andy Warhol Museum, the curators naturally drew attention to the similarities between Cocteau and the Pop icon. As the thematic organization of the exhibition hints, most of Cocteau's concerns--drugs, eroticism, fashion, celebrities, and religion--were Warhol's too. Both were politically unreliable Catholics who attached themselves to famous personalities; but unlike Warhol, Cocteau lacked the will or talent to become a major visual artist. One need only compare Picabia's portrait of him or Picasso's 1917 drawing Jean Cocteau and Marie Shabelska with Cocteau's image of the same scene to see the distance between his facility and real talent. His practical experience with ballet and film and his friendships with major artists seem not to have affected his drawing, and as a draftsman he didn't develop. Indeed, much of the frankly commercial late work from the '50s-a study for a postage stamp, Marianne in Profile, 1960; an Air France poster, c. 1952--marks a sharp decline in his ar t. …


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