Jean Cocteau (Jean Cocteau)

Jean Cocteau

Poet, painter, writer, and director. Jean Cocteau was born on July 5, 1889, in Maisons-Laffitte, France, a village 12 miles outside Paris, to Georges and Eugénie (née) Lecomte Cocteau. He and his two older siblings were brought up in comfortable household in Paris, where they were introduced to the arts by their parents. Their father, a lawyer and amateur artist, died in 1898. He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp, at nineteen. In the 1910s, Jean formed friendships with many prominent members of the Parisian avant-garde, including writer Guillaume Apollinaire and artists Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. He was so impressed by seeing the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky perform with the Ballets Russes that he met the company’s founder, Sergei Diaghilev, and asked to work with him. Jean designed posters for the Ballets Russe, and in 1917 he was one of the collaborators on the ballet Parade: Jean wrote the story, Erik Satie composed the music, Léonide Massine choreographed the dance and Picasso designed the set and costumes. Jean’s activities of the 1920s were remarkably varied. He composed opera libretti for several composers. He published collections of poetry and illustrations as well as a novel inspired by his experiences during World War I. He staged a ballet called Le Boeuf Sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof) and directed modern adaptations of several classic dramas. He promoted the work of young writer Raymond Radiguet, with whom he fell in love. When Radiguet died of typhoid fever, it is claimed that Jean began opium at this point in his life.  Jean’s opium use and his efforts to stop profoundly changed his literary style. His most notable book, Les Enfants Terribles, was written in a week during a strenuous opium weaning. In Opium: Journal of drug rehabilitation, he recounts the experience of his recovery from opium addiction in 1929. His account, which includes vivid pen-and-ink illustrations, alternates between his moment-to-moment experiences of drug withdrawal and his current thoughts about people and events in his world. Jean was supported throughout his recovery by his friend and correspondent, philosopher Jacques Maritain. Under Maritain’s influence Jean made a temporary return to the sacraments of the Catholic Church. He again returned to the Church later in life and undertook a number of religious art projects. In 1930, Jean wrote and directed his first motion picture, the silent, surrealistic film Le Sang d’un Poète (The Blood of a Poet). Like many of his signature works, it portrayed a creative artist’s encounters with love and death. After a 16-year interval, Jean made his most famous film, La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and the Beast), a retelling of a classic fairy tale. This motion picture, starring Josette Day and Jean Marais, would inspire many other filmmakers with its dreamlike atmosphere and surrealistic special effects. Jean returned to the subject of the solitary artist-poet in his film Orphée, a surreal adaptation of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus starring Jean Marais. He completed his “Orpheus trilogy” in 1960 with Le Testament d’Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus), in which he played a poet much like himself.  In 1955 Jean was made a member of the Académie française and The Royal Academy of Belgium. During his life Jean was commander of the Legion of Honor, Member of the Mallarmé Academy, German Academy (Berlin), American Academy, Mark Twain (U.S.A) Academy, Honorary President of the Cannes film festival, Honorary President of the France-Hungary Association and President of the Jazz Academy and of the Academy of the Disc. Jean died at home in Milly-la-Forêt, Essonne, France. He was 74. (bio by: Shock)


  • July, 05, 1889
  • France


  • October, 10, 1963
  • France


  • Chapelle St. Blaise, Milly La Foret
  • France

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