20TH CENTURY AVANT-GARDE ICON | TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME JEAN COCTEAU

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“An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”

–Jean Cocteau

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Jean Cocteau.  Quite possibly the most important art icon of the 20th century, who could seemingly do it all, and with great style– painter, poet, playwright, novelist, actor, film-maker, the list goes on and on. But he was first and foremost a poet at heart– and a truly incredible one at that.

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Stunning photo of Jean Cocteau by Irving Penn.  Damn, the man had style.  Borrowing a page out of The Duke of Windsor’s book– perfectly pairing classic menswear patterns with elegance and ease. “Penn made this portrait of Jean Cocteau during a 1948 trip to Paris for Vogue.  Each thread of Cocteau’s tie, vest, and suit is etched in light and shadow; the patterns and the texture pop out in vivid, tactile detail.  The drape of his coat over an extended arm adds drama and balance to the composition. Cocteau is dressed in the sartorial attire of a dandy, which, by all accounts, he was.  There is an air of flamboyance about him, until you look at his face.  His dead-serious expression registers the fierce intelligence of a keen observer, as if he is taking our measure while deigning to allow us to take his.” –Philip Gefter via

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August 1955, France– Picasso with Jean Cocteau at a Bullfight –Image by © Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau knew one another for nearly fifty years. They met in 1915 following Picasso’s departure from martre, where Cocteau’s friend, the poet Max Jacob, had shared an atelier with the painter– one using the only bed by day, and other by night. Picasso made an immediate and lasting impression on Cocteau, who considered him as one of his three masters. via

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Jean Cocteau sketching model Elizabeth Gibbons in a Chanel dress in his hotel bedroom (Castille in the Rue Cambon), surrounded by posters of his latest theatrical productions, photos of friends, medicine bottles, books, stage sets and pencils, 1937.  –photo by Roger Schall via

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Circa 1930s– Cecil Beaton posed Jean Cocteau in this photograph smoking an opium pipe. Why you ask? The author Raymond Radiguet, with whom he had an intense personal relationship, died of typhoid in 1923, at the age of 20. The effect on Cocteau was seismic. Within weeks he had fallen into opium addiction. In his book, Jean Cocteau and his Films of Orphic Identity, Arthur B. Evans suggests that this addiction came to play a central role in his poetry– “It could be reasonably argued that Cocteau’s entire poetic philosophy, his life-style, and his very approach to his art were radically and permanently altered during his years of opium addiction from 1924 to 1929. It was during this time, and that immediately following, that the author came to find his personalized mythology of mirrors, angels, truthful lies, invisibility, and inevitably, his preoccupation with the literal and figurative aspects of death.” via

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1916– “Les Six” Composers with Jean Cocteau –Image by © Bettmann/Corbis. Cocteau became associated with the ‘Group of Six’ composers (Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre). In 1920 he composed a “Spectacle-Concert”, Le Boeuf sur le toit, to music by Milhaud.

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1930s, France– Jean Cocteau Experiments With Masks –Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection

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A young and dapper Jean Cocteau

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An older, striking Jean Cocteau

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Jean Cocteau by Andy Warhol

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4 thoughts on “20TH CENTURY AVANT-GARDE ICON | TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME JEAN COCTEAU

  1. A while back TSY gave a looky on Van Gogh / Kirk Douglas
    and I said…

    What other ‘venue’ is bright, savvy and souped up enuf to have Saarinen n’ Shelby, Marley n’ Miles, Johnny Cash, Norman Rockwell, Howard Hughes, Dick Teague, Tom Waits, Van Gogh and Chet Baker all under one hood.

    And now we can add the great Cocteau.

    Brilliant.
    and just in time for Christmas.

    Great site

  2. You Are naughty for swiping my ‘older, striking’ photo…which I swiped from a book purchased at the Cocteau Museum in Menton, France; laughs all around.

    If you care to read more about Cocteau and the use of motorcycles in his films to represent Death’s henchmen, read on:

    http://thevintagent.blogspot.com/2010/07/cocteau-orpheus-and-motorcycles.html

    Jean Cocteau was a very interesting human being, prodigiously talented, and possessed of a unique vision. His work was never especially popular, as it is almost too personal, quirky, and intellectual, but he was legendary even in the 1940s for his films and theater work.

    Little known fact; filmmaker Kenneth Anger lived with Cocteau in Paris for a short spell, ultimately spending 12 years in France, before returning to LA in ’62 to make ‘Scorpio Rising’.

    • Paul, you always have the inside scoop! Was that photo yours? Color me co-opting. I’m going to read your post now, which no doubt is brilliant.

      Best, JP

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