COCTEAU: Pride and the Populous

One of the most famous and respected artist of the 20th Century, Jean Cocteau lived his life and loved with pride. His legacy and popularity is best interpreted through his diverse works in opera, ballet, theater, film, visual arts and literature were his pure poetry scant in sexual content, but rich in a universality of passion, tragedy, pathos, compassion, insight,  innovation, style and emotion are always in evidence. Cocteau revealed his private life through his works and lived openly as a gay man. As a teenager, Jean went a grand ball where Sarah Bernhardt said, “Young man go home and wash all that make up off your face.” He greatly admired this icon of the 19th Century, but he set the stage for the 20th Century through a rebellion of artistic simplicity.

     In his film, The Blood of a Poet, one sees a young boy who is a victim of bullying by little thugs who hit him in the head with a snowball that had a stone in it. The blood that flowed from his wound was symbolic of Cocteau’s writing later to be published in The Difficulty of Being. This blood was his line of poetry that he tied and retied again, in different ways, to create more manifestations of his Poesie Plastique.

     During World War I, Cocteau was not considered “physically fit” to serve in the military. He published a series of war journals: Le Mot-The Word, as a warning to the French to not allow the Germans to devour the French spirit at the birth of the Nazi reign of terror. Additionally, he took action that he recounted in his autobiographical book, turned movie, Thomas the Imposter

Self Portrait, Jean Cocteau

     Cocteau went behind enemy lines on the Belgium Front. Instead of killing, he was washing the wounds of the Marines. He returned to Paris and formed his own ambulance service to bring the wounded back home. He had Paul Poiret create his personal blue uniform and Elsa Schiaparelli help underwrite this endeavor. He said “I am the lie that always tells the truth.” He pretended to be a soldier in order to serve that which he believed to be correct because he felt it was the right thing to do.  “No” was not an option for him.

     He admired the beauty in men and women. He created a ballet, The Blue God for Vaslav Nijinsky whom he considered a good friend and the god of dance. When he finished his ballet, Phedra, he wanted a cross between Garbo and Dietrich to dance the role. He set it on the “Black Pearl” of the Ballets Russes Tamara Toumanova.

     Cocteau was known as Jean the Birdman. He always discovered talents or they were attracted to him. He was accused of jumping from limb to limb. He said “Yes, it is true, but it is always in my own tree.” He brought many mainstream artists such Picasso, Bakst, Fini, Man Ray, Dali and many others to the theatre to realize his productions.  Two of the most important productions were his opera with Stravinsky Oedipus Rex and the ballet Parade with music by Les Six. As there spokesman, he was considered “Le Sept” – The Seventh.

     Cocteau strongly identified with Orpheus’ The First Prince of Poetry and according to Albrecht Durer “the first homosexual.”  According to legend the furies had him decapitated and his head flowing on his lyre found its final resting place on the isle of Lesbos, and all the time it was singing.

     Cocteau discovered Jean Marais who was a good actor, but Cocteau made him a living legend. Marais was the natural choice to play the protagonist in his film Orpheus which was based on his book of the same title. Marais was the great love of his life. In his last film, The Testament of Orpheus, he created the first “living will” to be filmed. He brought together glimpses of his great dramatic works and people that he loved together in his final statement.

The Lovers

     It was only fitting that Marais be the one to play in the most classically romantic of all his films, Beauty and the Beast. It will be screened in the library’s theater on Thursday, June 14. This is one creation from a  lifetime body of work that portrayed love and its complexities which was almost always  heterosexual, but it is the same in any profound relationship in the GLTB Community because I advocate Love knows no gender. 

     Cocteau felt that the Greeks had portrayed every human emotion and situation. He took these as the corner stones upon which he built his entire literary and artistic world that he shared during his lifetime. Cocteau loved and shared lust with men. He stated that “Friendship always lasts longer than love.” You will have a chance to see Cocteau and Colette at the Grand Vefour, a world premier contemporary play about an eternal friendship that he shared with Colette, one of leading female figures of the 20th Century in the Library’s Theater Saturday, June 23.

     Launching Pride Month, the City of West Hollywood is featuring The Poetic Expressions of Jean Cocteau. The retrospective art exhibition will be displayed on two floors of the West Hollywood Library at 625 North San Vincente Blvd. in West Hollywood, California. The premiere will be Friday, June 1 at 7:00 pm with a tour led by me, and the exhibition will run through July 31, 2012.

     On the library’s first floor you may view that which Cocteau wanted to leave as his visual legacy. This lithographic suite reflects the themes, passions and style of Cocteau’s life. Many of these works may be found as murals in six chapels he created and in the Salle De Marriage in Menton, France where he “tattooed” the walls. He is further immortalized by the new Jean Cocteau Museum which I opened in heart of Menton, France November 6, 2011.

By Tony Clark, Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres


Editor’s review: Below is an abbreviated photo expose of the Cocteau exhibit opening on June 1, 2012:

The West Hollywood’s Pride Month was launched June 1st. This year the Arts Commission lead by the Arts Administrator decided to feature Fine Arts to set the tone of the Creative City. The festivities in the West Hollywood’s newly constructed library that is a work of art in itself.

Carolyn Campbell and Joel Marks.

     The evening began with the opening of “The Poetic Expressions of Jean Cocteau” with a retrospective art exhibition curated by Chevalier Tony Clark. The attendees were as diverse as the community. Present were the French diplomats, artists, collectors, writers, fashion designers, literary scholars, many representative of the theatre and film industry. Of course there were those that admire the arts and fine literature.

     City officials and staff of West Hollywood greeting the packed open spaces with some people standing in the stacks which were below eye level. Andrew Campbell led the ceremonies and introduced everyone that was responsible for the month long events and those responsible for the evening entertainment. He turned the podium over to Chevalier Tony Clark to give a history of Jean Cocteau and to lead a curatorial tour of exhibition that was on two floors of the library.

Mayor Jeffrey Prang of West Hollywood.

M. David Martinon, Consulate General of France.

     Chevalier Clark took the audience on a tour of the life that began in 1889 and took it all the way to end in 1963. It was a tour de force because Cocteau was so prolific in all the arts which were called his “Plastic Poetry” because Cocteau felt that everything that he did was a manifestation of his poetry. He expressed in poem, novel, war journals, opera, dance, theater,  high fashion, films, sculpture, pastels, drawings and lithography to name a few of his media.

One of a series of murals for the Salle de Marriage, Menton France is in the background as Clark lectures.

     Clark wove a story about the young man that burst out of the closet and later realized that he could live openly as long as he continued to live his own style.

“The Mediterranean”, 7-color lithograph on transfer paper. Cocteau created this profile of his journey sailing the Greek isles, Italy, France and Spain on the boat Orphee.

     Not only did Cocteau have style, but also he brought it out in others.

     The original manuscripts, photos, intimate drawings of concepts to close friends help tell the tale of a man of genius. From Stravinsky to Charlie Chaplin, the world of art and literature was moved and influenced by Cocteau. 

     This exhibition is a world premier because most of the works in the collection came directly from Cocteau’s atelier in Milly-la-foret, France or from some of his close personal friends.

     The diversity and uniqueness of this exhibition is as unique as the man himself. He “tattooed” the walls of five chapels, including his final one, St. Blaise Des Simples, which is near his chateau in Milly, where Cocteau’s body is laid before the alter. On his tomb he had the words written “Je rest avec vous…” (I am still with you).

Review photos by Richard E. Settle


Editor’s note:  For the Tony Clark Report digital print version, click on below: 

OR download pdf below from this site:

TCR-May-June 2012-Cocteau


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9 Comments for “COCTEAU: Pride and the Populous”

  1. This is a beautiful exhibit presented at the City of West Hollywood’s beautiful new library. An extraordinary real delight.

  2. joel thurm

    great job….learned a lot

  3. The exhibition is both magical and inspiring. To se so many of Cocteau’s works all in one location is alone worthy of the trip to see the exhibition. Further many of the exhibited works I have not been even aware of. The exhibition is well rounded with works for varied periods of Cocteau’s live, and cover a variety of subject matter. Truly a must see.
    Bravo Tony for curating such a great exhibition!

  4. John Sarley

    A must-see retrospective for Cocteau fans and art lovers alike. I highly recommend it.

  5. Jodie Hart

    I stumbled upon the art of Jean Cocteau in Paris in the 1990’s, and was delighted to learn that an exhibit was coming to Los Angeles. The icing on the cake was the tour led by Tony Clark, which was both informative and personally engaging. Later, the musical performance by Pacific Serenades was the perfect conclusion to a perfect evening. Namaste, Jodie

  6. Dror Kolton

    I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend the opening night of Jean Cocteau exhibit at WeHo library and what a pleasure it was.
    Mr. Tony Clark, a real art lover and an art maven who has spend many years searching Mr. Cocteau prolific art history has taken us through some of the more famous of Cocteau visual art productions shown at the library and describe in details many of this objects. Thank you. Dror.

  7. Sorry that I missed the opening due to other photo obligations for a continuing art project. Will attend William’s Cocteau play. Best, Stathis

  8. This is really a remarkable exhibition – a great feat for West Hollywood and Los Angeles to be hosting these stunning works by Cocteau.
    I was blown away by how many works there were – and proved a wonderful opportunity to absorb firsthand the talent that Cocteau was. It is such an honor to be embodying the grand artist/filmmaker/poet/writer/designer for the 2-person play by William Emboden “Cocteau & Colette at the Grand Vefour.” It is a beautiful play about the unique friendship by these two extraordinary figures of 20th Century France. The play not only provides a lot of information about their lives, but does so in a heart-warming and at time humorous way. The staged reading of the play happens for free to the public on June 23rd at the gorgeous theater space (Public Meeting Room & Council Chambers) below the exhibition.

  9. What a magnificent collection! I’ve never never seen such diverse and period expansive body of work. This is a must see, and it’s located in the handsome WeHo library, and as Tony says, it couldn’t be a more appropriate venue for the collection, as Cocteau was a poet. It was a special treat to hear Tony speak of each piece, he is a passionate admirer of Cocteau and his admiration has lent him extensive insight into the mind and works of Cocteau, very well done. Thank you-Gerrad Bohl

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