Jean Cocteau

*1889 in Maisons-Laffitte, France

† 1963 in Milly-la-Forêt, France

Jean Cocteau, Adam and Eva, undated, stained glass, 40 x 30 cm, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen, loan of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation © Comité Cocteau, Paris/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021 / Photo: Simon Vogel

Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963) became known for his diverse work as a film director, writer and artist. In addition to painting and graphic art, he also worked with ceramics and jewellery. Cocteau also illustrated his own poetry and texts, thus linking writing with drawing.
While living in Paris from 1907, he made the acquaintance of Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973), among others, and came into contact with the Surrealist group around André Breton (1896-1966) – a movement that focused particularly on the dreamlike and abstract effects of art.
Although it is difficult to classify Cocteau’s art in one of the currents of his time, it can be said that figurative and geometric forms are combined in his drawings. Thus, lines and contours become the supporting means, while shading, surfaces, hatching and internal structures are largely ignored. The shifting of perspectives, the altered scale and the overextension of the figures result in humorous, almost caricatural depictions in which the line describes the essential features of the figures and the subject. Cocteau himself describes his drawing style as writing that consists of a flow of lines.
These characteristics can also be seen in the glass painting Adam and Eve: Painting reduced to line, it conveys the theme of the Christian Bible story about Adam and Eve who, in their time in paradise, fall prey to a serpent and eat a fruit from the tree that had previously been singled out by their God as untouchable. The contours alone describe the figures, the apple as an attribute and the snake nestling against Adam’s back. Neither hatchings nor planes produce light and shadow; the slight effect of depth is produced only by the few overlaps (where even only the lines meet) between Eve’s arms and legs and Adam’s upper body: The line is the focus of the elaboration.
Stained glass is characterised by the effect of the light passing through and intense colours. It is all the more striking that colour has been dispensed with in this work. The focus on line and contour is intensified and thus results in the connection to a drawing in which the line is seen as the direct result of artistic inspiration and autonomy and as a supporting element in Cocteau’s oeuvre.

KH