Sprawling exhibition celebrates works of Jean Cocteau

Sprawling exhibition celebrates the life and works of poetic polymath Jean Cocteau

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 10:37am

The 50th anniversary of the death of Jean Cocteau, one of the most versatile figures in the history of the arts in France, will be observed on October 11.

Cocteau saw himself as basically a poet, but also wrote novels, plays and ballets, made films and worked prolifically as an artist and illustrator.

It is the last of these talents that will be on display in "Jean Cocteau: Spirit of the 20th Century Parisian Scene", to be held at City Hall Exhibition Hall next month as part of this year's Le French May.

"He had a very strong influence on major artists such as Picasso, Warhol and Matisse," says Arnaud Barthelemy , the consul general of France in Hong Kong and Macau.

"This Cocteau exhibition is an exclusive, since it was created for Le French May. It will present more than 200 of his works, including the sword made by Cartier for his entrance to the Académie Française."

The academician's sword, which Cocteau designed in 1955, has a hand-guard shaped in the artist's instantly identifiable line drawing style, illustrating one of the recurrent themes in his work, the legend of Orpheus.

The exhibition will comprise 230 works by Cocteau himself, plus selected exhibits by artists influenced or inspired by him. These include Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Leon Bakst, Bernard Buffet, Leonard Foujita, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Andy Warhol.

The exhibition has been curated from loans from the large private collections of Ioannis Kontaxopoulos and Alexander Prokopchuk, Cocteau's house in Milly-la-Foret, the National Museum of Monaco and Maison Cartier. Kontaxopoulos is also the curator for the exhibition.

According to Le French May, the exhibition will centre on "the themes that haunted Cocteau throughout his life; namely, self-portraits, mythology, religion, eroticism, circus, Russian ballet, bullfighting and flamenco".

Works exhibited will include illustrated books, drawings, oil paintings, prints, painted pebbles, jewellery and costume and set designs, among other artefacts.

Cocteau is also one of the film directors featured in the Le French May cinema programme, "A Touch of Madness: the 20s", which runs from May 3-31 at the Broadway Cinematheque and the Palace IFC Cinema.

Cocteau made his debut as a movie director in 1925 with a short film called Jean Cocteau Fait du Cinéma, but his most notable contributions to French film began in 1930 with Le Sang d'un Poète, the first in his "Orphic trilogy". The others were Orphée in 1950 and Le Testament d'Orphée in 1960, in which his friend, Picasso, made a cameo appearance.

Cocteau visited Hong Kong in 1936 on a voyage to emulate Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.

Between Singapore and Hong Kong, he met another famous director aboard the ship, Charlie Chaplin, although Cocteau spoke no English and Chaplin no French. It was one very short conversation.