Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau

photo: Bruce M. White
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About This Work

Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, 1884–1920)
Jean Cocteau, 1916
Oil on canvas
100.4 x 81.3 cm. (39 1/2 x 32 in.)
Signed upper left: Modigliani


Acquired from the artist by Jean Cocteau, Paris, ca. 1917; sold by Moise Kisling to the owner of Café Rotonde, ca. 1917. De Caves, Paris. Zborowski, Paris. E[mile] Khoury (Khouri), Paris. Paul Guillaume (1891–1934), Paris, by 1926; by descent to his widow Domenica Guillaume (later Walter). Billy Rose (1899–1966), New York, by 1944; sold to George Gard "Buddy" De Sylva (1895–1950), Los Angeles; by descent to the estate of George Gard De Sylva; [James Vigeveno Galleries, Los Angeles]; [Pierre F. Nesi, Paris]; sold to Henry Pearlman, by Mar. 1951; Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, after 1974.

Critical Perspective

In the spring of 1916, Pablo Picasso brought the poet Jean Cocteau to meet the artists and poets who habitually gathered at Moïse Kisling’s Montparnasse studio. The Right Bank poet apparently irritated the group of Left Bank friends with his pretentions: the poet Pierre Reverdy recounted later that Cocteau talked incessantly, his voice like the rain beating on the roof, while everyone ignored him.

Both Modigliani and Kisling painted Cocteau, and Modigliani’s devastating portrait captures the poet’s vanity. Cocteau paid for the portrait by Modigliani, but, claiming that it would not fit in a taxi, left it behind and never sent for it. At this time in his life, Cocteau was proud of his long, straight nose, which is shown here with a bump, so his pride may have been wounded. Cocteau later wrote, "It does not look like me, but it does look like Modigliani, which is better."

In 1957 Henry Pearlman wrote to Jean Cocteau to tell him that he owned this portrait Modigliani had made.