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Cocteau was born July 5, 1889 in Maisons-Lafitte outside of Paris. At nine-teen he published his first collection of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin, and subsequently came in contact with the principal figures of the Parisian Belle Epoque. Among these figures was Sergei Diaghilev, the Russian ballet director, with whom he later collaborated in 1917 during the production of Parade, a ballet in which music, poetry, and figurative art are mixed together. The event, which Apollinaire would dub “a surreal work”, was fundamental to the development of modern art.
After the war, Cocteau embarked upon a profound friendship with the future poet and writer Raymond Radiguet in 1918. Only 15-years-old at the time, Radiguet’s influence would prove itself instrumental to the art and life of Jean Cocteau. Following Radiguet’s premature death in 1923, Cocteau became dependent on opium and was subsequently hospitalized. During this time he wrote one of his most important novels, Les Enfant terribles (1929). In the early Thirties, Cocteau begins pursuing his interest in cinema, shooting a number of films, of particular note was Le Sang d’un poète (1930). In the same period he wrote a theatre piece entitled La Machine infernale (1934), which is an adaptation of the myth of Oedipus. After a period of inactivity, he returned to cinema in 1946 directing La Belle et la Bête with Jean Marais, and between 1947 and 1948 directed L’Aigle à deux têtes and Les Parents terribles, both adapted from two of his earlier plays.
Cocteau’s passion for mythology is also reflected in a series of pictorial decorations he executed in the Chapel of Saint-Pierre in Villefranche on the Côte d’Azur in the town of Menton. In 1955 he became a member of the Académie Française and the Académie Royale of Belgium. In 1959 he released one of his most original graphic works, an album entitled Gondole des morts (Scheiwiller), partially edited by the artist and his friend Fabrizio Clerici. In it he anticipated with his sketches the future theatre piece called Les Chevaliers de la Table ronde (1963). Cocteau died on October 11, 1963, in Milly-la-forêt.