I have to confess that my interest in the Cocteau Museum in Menton was architectural rather than artistic.  I admired the quirky inventiveness of Cocteau’s work, but he didn’t touch me as some of the other moderns do.  The visit changed that.  What is interesting about this museum is that it is the most extensive collection of any single artist’s work that I have seen.

Jean Cocteau Museum, looking west

Jean Cocteau Museum, looking west

A Cocteau museum had already been established in Menton, housed in a 17th-century fort.    This building still displays many of his works and has a charm of its own.

The first Cocteau museum

The first Cocteau museum

But the Museum that was opened in 2011, designed by French architect Rudy Ricciotti, seizes the attention of the visitor like few museums in the Côte d’Azur.   There have been various descriptions of the off-white forms, each one different, that house the Museum.  “…like a fierce set of teeth or a string of alabaster forearms holding up the sky” and “… like a spider, with jagged black pillars sprawling leg-like over the building”. I found photographing these forms fascinating, both from a distance as well as selected close-up details.



Ricciotti claims that he was inspired by Cocteau’s work.      

“Black and white no longer serve as colours here,” he said, motivating the design in the competition. “…they create an interplay of structural forces calling to mind both the artist’s works on paper and the poet’s personality, his zones of light and darkness, his enigmatic self-mythology fueled by contrasts.”

Interior of Museum

Interior of Museum

My next confession is that I had not seen that much of Cocteau’s work.  What makes it possible here is that almost the entire collection belonged to an American collector Sèverin Wunderman who bequeathed it to the Museum.  What is so striking about this artist is the diversity of his work  –  he did paintings, graphics, sculptures and ceramics; he designed costumes and made films;  he wrote plays and poetry.  The list goes on.

Les Amoreaux 1948

Les Amoureaux 1948

As with artists at this level, he turned out much of a high quality.  I found his self-portrait drawings intriguing, a series called Le Mystère de Jean l’Oiseleur.  Thirty-three of them are on display, brilliant in execution.  Each, one feels, admits to some conflict, not one of them joyous.  One bears in mind that he was an opium addict and so, a caption like Je garde mon ange (I keep my angel) makes one speculate, though, with Cocteau, of course, the caption  could mean a multiplicity of other things.

One of many self-portraits

One of many self-portraits

It was thought-provoking to see his sexually-explicit drawings followed by graphics of scenes from Christ’s life, the final one, done shortly before he died in 1963, an Ecce Homo, in which Christ’s face is not unlike his own.  Riciotti says that Cocteau’s art was “an enigmatic self-mythology feuled by contrasts”.



In his figurative depictions, Cocteau is obsessed by  classical forms and it is interesting that many of the male figures have, in some way, the features of his long-time lover, Jean Marais, the French actor.

Classical obsession

Classical obsession

In a glass cabinet, the name of a small volume of poems he published caught my eye:  Le Cap de Bonne Espérance.  It does not deal with Cape Town at all; instead it is a collection of arcane, experimental poetry dealing with a metaphorical Roland Garros, the French pilot, who died in 1918.  One of the poems translates as:

The Smoke Sign

The aviator, who described the sky today

With white smoke in great sweeps

Proceeded, so that the wind,

not noticeable from below

Could not clump his sign.

That teaches us, I thought to myself,

how we must write.

Le Mystére

Le Mystère



© Will van der Walt

Menton, 17th June 2015

Sources:  Wikipedia; Jean Cocteau:  Livres, Poems

Images:  Will






  1. Michael Williams says:

    HI Willem
    I spent an hour in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London yesterday – my sushi getting warmer and warmer as I ventured deeper into British history rooms – seeking out Queen Victoria and the blessed Victorians. What a strange lot they were…
    Sounds as if you are enjoying a french summer as I am enjoying a British on. Girls come over to Holland in a weeks time – their first European trip and I’m looking forward to showing them around. Scratching out a new musical for Wales – surely there are easier things in life to be doing!
    lots of love to your lovely lady – hope her health is improved,
    best wishes as always,

Comment Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: