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Jean Cocteau & Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau knew one another for nearly fifty years, and frequently worked and played together. They met in 1915 following Picasso's departure from martre, where Cocteau's friend, the poet Max Jacob, had shared an atelier with the painter, one using the only bed by day and other by night. Picasso made an immediate and lasting impression on Cocteau, who considered him as one of his three masters.

Cocteau, for whom the eyes - including his own - acted like genitals, probing and responding, succumbered to the Spaniard's "black eye that frisks you," and that looked "like the muzzle of a gun." But his appraisal went deeper than that, and he quickly sensed, and often wrote about, the anarchic quality of Picasso's painting. Cocteau marveled at the way Picasso replaced the human figure with "a splendid metaphor of lines, masses, and colours." In his 1923 essay on Picasso, Cocteau looked back to 1917, when the Spaniard had painted the huge drop curtain for the ballet Parade. "A poor artist," wrote Cocteau, covers a theatre curtain, but on raising it reveals nothing. A true painter (Picasso), as he covers his canvas, raises it on a theatre into which eyes and intelligence plunge."

Picasso could be a thoughtful and delightful friend in those early days. When Cocteau was ill, Picasso sent him a puppy he had fashioned out of a single piece of cardboard, so cleverly made that it stood on all four legs and wagged its tail. Another of Cocteau's cardboard treasures by Picasso was a coloured gambling dice, which the poet kept under an inverted drinking glass like a precious jewel.

Cocteau never forgot those days in Rome, where they worked together on Parade in the Cave Taglioni. The experience triggered half a dozen letters to his mother, exclaiming over Picasso' genius, which the poet would encounter in further Picasso-Cocteau collaborations to come.

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