July 5, 1889, Maisons-Laffitte, France
October 11, 1963, Milly-la-Forêt, France
Country of Origin/Citizenship
Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker
Film Director, Author, Poet, Artist, Playwright, Actor, Librettist
Avant-Garde Movements Associated With
Dada, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, “Return to Order"
Date & Places of Overlap with Loy
Jean Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, a horse-riding hub 12 miles outside of Paris as the third child of Georges Cocteau and Eugénie Lecomte Cocteau, “solid” members of the Parisian bourgeoisie. His father committed suicide when Cocteau was nine, and afterward he was raised along with his siblings by his mother and grandmother in Paris. He adored his mother, whom he once likened to Madonna “swathed in velvet, smothered in diamonds, bedecked with nocturnal plumes, a glittering chestnut tree, spiked with rays of light.”. Perhaps her tastes prompted his later, ardent friendships with stylish women such as Coco Chanel, Edith Piaf, and Russian Princess Natalia Pavlovna. Cocteau’s mother introduced him to her contacts within Paris’s artistic circles and salons, and by 1909 Cocteau had released his first book of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin. In 1917, he wrote the story for the ballet Parade, which included décor by his dear friend Pablo Picasso.
In 1919, Cocteau began a one-sided love affair with the young writer, Raymond Radiguet. Though Radiguet did not necessarily return Cocteau’s affections, he relished the attention of the older man. Radiguet died tragically in 1923, which sent Cocteau into a serious opium addiction. In the 1930s, Cocteau wrote his best-received play, The Infernal Machine, but, more significantly, began his filmmaking career with 1930’s The Blood of a Poet. His film career reached its apex with 1946’s Beauty and the Beast, though he would make a number of influential films after that. These early films were notable for their surrealistic style and their focus on the themes of love and death.
There is photographic evidence of Cocteau and Loy together in Paris in 1923 (Burke). Loy had recently returned to Paris after a long absence, and Cocteau was mourning the passing of his friend and lover, Raymond Radiguet. Loy was seeing increasing success, particularly with the release of The Lunar Baedeker in 1923, and Cocteau had finished his Radiguet-assisted novel Thomas the Imposter. From 1923 to 1936, Loy and Cocteau, both multidisciplinary artists and thinkers, were in overlapping circles and likely experienced one another’s work, particularly given Cocteau’s twin launches into filmmaking and self-promotion during this time. Loy would likely have come into contact with Cocteau as a result of this promotion, as she was scouting talent for the art dealer Julien who exhibited Cocteau’s work.
In the 1940s, Cocteau’s legacy became more complicated; though his lover, Jean Marais, fought with the Resistance, Cocteau’s affection for “Hitler’s Sculptor,” Arno Brecker, led to charges of Nazi sympathizing. Though he was later cleared of charges of collaboration, Cocteau’s failure to truly condemn the Nazis leaves a shadow over the man and his work. Cocteau remained active in the film world throughout his final years and passed away in his chateau on Oct. 11, 1963, the same day as his friend Edith Piaf.
Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern : The Life of Mina Loy. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996
Cocteau, Jean. Jean Cocteau. Turner, 25 Sept. 2003- 5 Jan. 2004, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris.
Cocteau, Jean, et al. Cocteau : Catalogue De L’exposition “Jean Cocteau Sur Le Fil Du Siècle.” Centre Pompidou, 2003.
Cocteau, Jean, and Wallace Fowlie. The Journals of Jean Cocteau. Indiana University Press, 1956.