Known as the ‘ tat­tooed villa’, the for­mer home of Jean Cocteau is an artist’s in­deli­ble man­i­festo on life and liv­ing.

VOGUE Living Australia - - In Store -

In the Spring of 1950, hav­ing just wrapped the film adap­ta­tion of his novel Les En­fants Ter­ri­bles, Jean Cocteau went to spend a week in a hand­some, tur­reted villa in Saint-Jean-CapFer­rat on the French Riviera. Known then as the Villa Santo Sospir, by the time Cocteau left 11 years later it had be­come in­fa­mous as ‘ la villa tatouée’ — the tat­tooed villa — thanks to the dandy painter’s deft hand with char­coal and brush. At the time, the house was the sum­mer res­i­dence of Françine Weisweiller, a Parisian so­cialite and pa­tron of Yves Saint Lau­rent. Weisweiller was the cousin of ac­tress Ni­cole Stéphane, who plays Elis­a­beth in Les En­fants Ter­ri­bles, and it was Stéphane who in­tro­duced the two dur­ing film­ing. It was un coup de foudre, the pair of ec­centrics hit­ting it off right away. Perched on cliffs over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean, the villa — dec­o­rated by the great Madeleine Castaing — was sim­ply white­washed in ac­cor­dance with the style of the re­gion when the 61-year-old artist ar­rived with his 25-year-old “adopted son” Edouard Der­mit. Like any artist con­fronted with a blank can­vas, the de­sire to leave his mark was com­pelling. Cocteau asked his host­ess if he might draw, above the fire­place, a mu­ral of Apollo, the Greek god of mu­sic and art, poetry and archery. So de­lighted were the new pals with the re­sult that they de­cided Cocteau should carry on. As he put it shortly after­wards: “I was im­pru­dent enough to dec­o­rate one wall and Matisse said to me, ‘If you dec­o­rate one wall of a room, you have to do them all.’” The lo­ca­tion’s rocky out­crops and sap­phire wa­ters re­minded the artist of the Aegean, and so he drew upon his knowl­edge of Greek mythol­ogy for the draw­ings. So, a mus­cle-bound Diony­sus re­clines, gid­dily drunk in one bed­room. Nar­cis­sus and the nymph Echo are tête-à-tête in an­other. A naked Diana, star­tled by mor­tal Ac­taeon while bathing with her es­cort of nymphs, turns the hap­less hunter into a deer. Draw­ing di­rectly on the walls with­out pre­lim­i­nary sketches, Cocteau dis­placed nei­ther fur­ni­ture nor fix­ture, of­ten painting over ob­jects where they lay. A lamp­shade is graf­fi­tied with ef­fi­gies. The belly of one nude seems preg­nant with books. Ev­ery­where, his ges­ture is archly con­fi­dent, his touch whim­si­cal but self-as­sured. Erotic, naive, it’s like liv­ing in­side a gi­ant sketch­pad. Cocteau cov­ered all avail­able sur­faces in char­coal draw­ings be­fore go­ing back over them with a mix of tem­pera, pig­ment and raw milk. The ef­fect is dreamy, ethe­real. Later, he de­signed fab­ric wall-hang­ings to drape over bare sur­faces and even over draw­ings. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he painted the in­te­ri­ors of cup­boards, or cov­ered paint­ings with pat­terned cur­tains. “And when we no longer know where to hang our paint­ings,” he said, “we hang them out­side, on the trees.” In 1951, Cocteau di­rected a Ko­dachrome film in which he gives a guided tour of the villa now tat­tooed. Grainy, with bold dabs of vi­brant colour, it is the very def­i­ni­tion of painterly film­mak­ing. The villa, he says, “is an­other world, a world in which it is in­dis­pens­able to for­get the one in which we live”. Lit­tered with vis­ual puns and sur­real ef­fects, much like his The Blood of a Poet (1930) and Or­pheus (1950), the film shows doors open of their own ac­cord onto bathrobes that ap­pear as ghosts. A spi­ral of cig­a­rette smoke rises in front of a painted face. The hair­less, sun­tanned hands of the dandy poet are shown in tight crop, twirling a pe­tu­nia that ap­pears to fold and un­fold, mag­i­cally, repet­i­tively. At one point, he films his arm in sil­hou­ette, shad­owed over a flowerbed, mov­ing like that of a com­pass. »

THIS PAGE: Cocteau be­gan ‘tat­too­ing’ the villa with a fig­ure of Greek god Apollo over the fire­place in the liv­ing room. Other myth­i­cal fig­ures soon fol­lowed. op­po­site page: in the din­ing room, wo­ven branches line the walls; ta­pes­try by Cocteau.

“I was im­pru­dent enough to dec­o­rate one wall... ...and Matisse said to me...

‘If you dec­o­rate one wall of a room, you have to do them all’” − Jean Cocteau

this page: a mo­saic by JEAN COCTEAU leads to the front door of the artist’s for­mer home and now mu­seum, known as the ‘tat­tooed villa’. op­po­site page: in the din­ing room, dec­o­rated by MADELEINE CASTAING, a ta­pes­try de­signed by Cocteau.

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