The multi-talented writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (Maisons-Laffitte, France, 1889 - Milly-la-Forêt, France, 1963) was passionate about Spain, particularly Andalusia, and was seduced by bullfighting and flamenco culture, which permeated into a large part of his artwork after his first visit in 1953. Cocteau collaborated with Pablo Picasso, a good friend, on Parade, Eric Satie's ballet produced by Serguéi Diaghilev, with Cocteau writing the libretto for the play, included in the previous exhibition El teatro de los pintores en la Europa de las vanguardias (The Theatre of Painters in Avant-garde Europe) in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Nevertheless, this wasn't the only occasion the French author was spoken about in Spain. The art critic, Juan Manuel Bonet, recalls in the writings of this exhibition catalogue how Federico García Lorca's inspiration for drawing stemmed from of Cocteau's book Dessins, or that Salvador Dalí, Sebastià Gasch and Lluis Montanyà included his name in the Manifest Groc as one of the examples of modernity that they all upheld. Furthermore, Gómez de la Serna dedicated the chapter Serafismo from his book Ismos (Isms) to studying the life and work of Cocteau.
The exhibition begins with a space dedicated to his photographs and documents, including images from the filming of The Testament of Orpheus, afternoons at bullfights and his travels to Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Marbella, where he resided for some months. In these images he can also be seen with friends such as Luisa Ortega, José María Pemán, Francine Weisweiller, Luis Escobar, Edgar Neville, Ana de Pombo and, of course, Picasso. Editions of his works, the sketchbook La aventura española and various letters to Luis Buñuel have also been compiled.
This is followed by Cocteau's drawings and a selection of his paintings, divided into the portraits of Picasso realised between 1916 and 1917, together with a later piece from 1955, flamenco drawings and those devoted to bullfighting culture, ceramics and panels created for Ana de Pombo.
Among those works devoted to flamenco culture present in the exhibition, spanning from 1951 to 1961, salient examples include El gitano (The Gypsy), an oil on canvas piece exhibited alongside a previous study that proffers some idea of the importance Cocteau gave to this work; the majority of his drawings were drawn and sketched out with great speed. El agitator portrays an anonymous face split into areas of colour with a white cloth covering the head, under which jet black locks of hair can be seen.
This is also followed by various drawings that reflect the atmosphere of flamenco tablao; flamenco singers and dancers with open mouths, foreshortened bodies are dressed in short jacketed suits, bata de cola flamenco dresses and carnations. The simple line drawings are carried out with paints and marker pens in either one or various colours. This group also includes those dedicated to his friends, such as Christmas Dedicated to Utrillo (Profile) (1953), Drawing Dedicated to Manolo Caracol (1961) and two drawings dedicated to “Güito”, both from 1961.
His drawings found inspiration from the bullfighters “El Cordobés” and Curro Romero as well as other characters such as the Coca-cola vendor, the centaur picador and the man-bull. The exhibition is also complemented with the cinema cycle organised for the occasion, with the films: Orpheus, The Testament of Orpheus and The Blood of a Poet.
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