Jean Cocteau

Biography of Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau is regarded as one of the most influential and versatile creative minds of the 20th century. With his exceptional gift in painting, writing, and directing both films and plays he was quick to establish himself as a leading creative force in the post-war Parisian avant-garde.


Born in Maisons-Lafitte in 1889 to a wealthy family, Jean Cocteau was exposed to the arts from a young age. He showed an early talent for writing and had his first poetry book published by just 19 years of age. He taught himself drawing and painting by regularly portraying his friend and acquaintances in a distinctive, fluid style inspired by his interests in poetry, cubism, psychoanalysis and Catholicism. He once described his drawing style as an ‘unravelling of his handwriting that was then tied up again, but in a different manner’.


In the 1910’s Jean Cocteau formed friendships with prominent members of the Parisian avant-garde such as the writer Guillaume Apollinaire and the artists Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani. Cocteau’s activities in this period were remarkably varied, collaborating with other avant-gardists in the writing and staging of plays, operas, films and ballets. He also created posters for the famous Ballets Russes, and published collections of illustrated poems. From 1930 he would go on to direct his best known films; Le Sang D’un Poète (The Blood of a Poet), La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and the Beast), and Orphée (Orpheus). The dreamlike atmosphere and surrealistic special effects of his films would go on to inspire other film makers.


Throughout his lifetime, Jean Cocteau received many honors and awards. In 1955 he was made a member of the Académie Française and the Royal Academy of Belgium. He also served as the honorary president of the Cannes film festival in 1953, and as president of the Académie Française du Jazz. Today Cocteau has a museum dedicated to his vast and varied body of work; the Musée Jean Cocteau collection Séverin Wunderman, in Menton, South of France. 

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