Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
Jean Cocteau – Misia in her loge – 1913
Cocteau – Misia and Diaghilev, 1923
Misia met Jean Cocteau when he was a young, aspiring poet. He arranged an introduction to Misia, through their mutual friend, the writer Maurice Rostand. He knew well that she was the golden thread to Diaghilev and his consort, the power behind his throne, so to speak. She liked young Jean and thought “he was irresistible at twenty”. She also realised he wasn’t just a pretty face: “Jean, whose life is one miraculous chain of success, soon found out how to set about it.” When he met Diaghilev, Cocteau knew that he was onto a good thing and decided to stick around the Ballets Russes, the group of avant-garde artists and their rich supporters. He never missed a performance, sitting in Misia’s box behind Diaghilev, attended all rehearsals, tagged along to all the first-night suppers at Larue’s. Jeanchik (his nick name) was very witty, amusing, and he had become a sort of a “mascot” of the company. He had recently published his first volume of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp and insisted he was primarily a poet. Diaghilev asked Cocteau to amaze him, Cocteau tried, but for Diaghilev he had to do more than dance on the tables at Larue’s restaurant. He showed talent in drawing while sketching various events and very soon started designing posters advertising the premieres. He was even asked to write a libretto for Le Dieu Bleu.
Cocteau humorously presented Misia with a Japanese fan as a companion to the fan given to her by Stéphane Mallarmé years before. Mallarmé had praised Misia’s stormy piano playing. The inscription on Cocteau’s fan said:
“I entrust myself to the airy void of your flight,
Oh Japanese paper flower, which fades at the finger’s touch
And blooms again,
Recalling your twin on which the immortal Stéphane
Predicted on gold “the joys of Sophie”.
Poem-éventail (fan shaped poem) by Jean Cocteau for Misia
The poem-eventail written by Jean Cocteau for Misia – 1912
Japanese fan given to Misia by Cocteau, 1912
When the 1st World War started Misia collected a number of vehicles from Parisian couturiers. They were converted into ambulances and driven to the front to help the injured. Jean Cocteau, who wore a male nurse’s uniform designed by top designer Paul Poiret, was part of Misia’s team. After some weeks they were taken over by Red Cross. In 1923, Jean Cocteau wrote a novel Thomas l’Imposteur inspired by this episode in his life. He based the character of Princess de Bormes on Misia. After the war Jean Cocteau colaborated with Pablo Picasso and Eric Sate on the ballet Parade for Ballets Russes. It was premiered to great acclaim in 1917. Cocteau was a very prolific artist – a film maker, poet, writer and painter. An important exponent of avant-garde, Cocteau influenced the work of others and was credited for building a bridge between the avant-garde of the left bank and the establishment of the right in Paris. In 1955 Cocteau was made a member of the Académie française and became a commander of the Legion of Honour. The Royal Academy of Belgium.