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Thursday, September 17, 2015

FRANCE | Milly-la-Forêt and Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau, artist, poet, screenwriter, director.
This is a photo of one on display at the house. The
others, of buildings and gardens, are by JT Marlin.
Alice and I went to the house of Jean Cocteau yesterday in Milly-la-Forêt, which is about five miles from where we are staying.

The driving itself was a pleasure, on less busy roads with greenery lush from the summer's growth and recent rains.

Jean Cocteau's Maison du Bailli was his "refuge" from 1947 until he died in 1963.

The huge Milly covered market marked
its 500th anniversary in 1979. 
It used to be part of the Château de la Bonde and now has the appearance of a gatekeeper's lodge.

Cocteau's house is on the edge of Milly, which is four times as large as Cély, where we are staying, or Barbizon, both of which have about 1,200 residents.

Cocteau's house from the garden, which he designed. The
orchard keeps the apple trees at bush level, pruning and
training them on wires like grape vines.

We came to Milly on Thursday, the day of the weekly market. It was a bigger affair than we have seen anywhere in the region during the past week. The covered market is is more than 500 years old.

What is the fascination of going to the homes of artists and writers? The president of the Maison Jean Cocteau says:
Opening to the public a house where an artist, poet and writer lived and worked is to allow the public to discover his secrets, to truly sense his creative realm, and share his intimate world.
The candles on pitchforks are for St. Blaise. The Christ in
thorns is truly evocative of the Passion.
Parts of the Château de la Bonde
date to the 12th century.
There is so much at the house of  Cocteau that I found the visit a big help in understanding who he was.

My French teacher at Portsmouth Priory (now Abbey) school was keen on Cocteau and we read some of his writing in the class.

Cocteau and his companion Jean Marais are often considered the first modern gay couple, but in the 1950s when I was at Portsmouth that topic was not openly discussed, at least not with me.

What could be discussed was Cocteau's creative genius, his art, his poetry, his films. It all makes sense at his house, where he fled to from the constant interruption he was subjected to in Paris.

Sphinx in garden today.
For example, in the Cocteau house garden there is a sculpture of a sphinx dressed as a French lady. There are two of them, one looking to the left and the other to the right.

Cocteau with sphinx.
On the wall was a photo of Jean Cocteau with one of the sphinx ladies. The connection one makes to the photo is stronger because the sculpture is in the garden.

The sphinx is surely in one of his films.

The Cocteau house, compared with the Millet house and museum in Barbizon, has an impressive collection of original art.
Several short film clips are shown - for example one in which a young Cocteau is encouraged by a talking statue to try to jump through a mirror - and he succeeds (the mirror morphs into a swimming pool).

The Roman soldiers are seen pretending not to see what is
happening - they are yawning, snoring or looking the other
way.
The house exhibit has many photos of Cocteau during the World War I period. In World War II his activity in Paris was well monitored and contradictory. Sometimes he would write against the evils of anti-semitism and racism and at other times he would extravagantly praise Hitler's favorite sculptor. After the war he was cleared of charges of collaboration.

Cocteau signed his chapel mural with
a cat.
After visiting the house - about which I could say so much more - we went to see the Chapel of Saint Blaise, a XIIth century chapel for which Cocteau did a mural in 1959. Cocteau is buried there.

The chapel, where lepers and others came to pray to Saint Blaise, the healer,  is surrounded by a botanical garden. Cocteau has painted medicinal herbs around the two longer walls of the chapel. The chapel painting reminded me of some of the images in the Matisse Chapel, but Cocteau is much more evocative of the crucifixion.

Sources

Maison Jean Cocteau (Somogy Art Publishers).