The exhibition Apollinaire, the Eyes of the Poet looks at the period between 1902 and 1918 when Guillaume Apollinaire was active as an art critic. This period of fifteen years, seemingly a brief span, would in fact see a prodigious concentration of schools, manifestos, experiments and discoveries flourishing throughout the arts. Apollinaire’s character, his artistic sensitivity and his insatiable curiosity, made him a witness, a participant and a privileged intermediary in the turbulent times of the early 20th century. With a keen eye for discovering the art of his time, Apollinaire "defined once and for all the approach of artists like Matisse, Derain, Picasso and Chirico (…) using intellectual surveying techniques not seen since Baudelaire" Breton declared in 1952.
The aim of this exhibition is to recognise the important effect that this poet-critic’s discerning eye had on his era, in much the same way as Baudelaire and Mallarmé had on theirs.
Poet, critic, friend of artists and one of the first to discover African arts, Apollinaire proved to be a key player in the aesthetic revolution that led to the birth of modern art.
This exhibition aims to explore Apollinaire’s mental and aesthetic universe through a thematic display: from Douanier Rousseau to Matisse, Picasso, Braque and Delaunay, from Cubism to Orphism and Surrealism, from academic sources to modernity, from tribal arts to popular arts. One section will highlight in particular the poet’s links with Picasso. The exhibition sits quite naturally in the Musée de l'Orangerie alongside the works collected by his friend Paul Guillaume, whom Apollinaire introduced into the avant-garde circles, and whose adviser he became.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Portrait (prémonitoire) de Guillaume Apollinaire, 1914
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne-Centre Pompidou © Centre Pompidou,
MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adam Rzepka © ADAGP, Paris 2016
Laurence des Cars, general heritage curator, director of the Musée de l'Orangerie
Claire Bernardi, curator of painting, Musée d'Orsay
Cécile Girardeau, heritage curator, Musée de l'Orangerie
Assisted by Sylphide de Daranyi, documentation manager, Musée de l'Orangerie
Emilie Bouvard, heritage curator, Musée National Picasso, Paris
Laurence Campa, lecturer at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre
Cécile Debray, heritage curator, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou
Maureen Murphy, senior lecturer at the Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne
Peter Read, professor of modern French literature and visual arts at the University of Kent
Exhibition organized by the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie, with the exceptional support of the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, the Musée national Picasso-Paris and the Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris.
Apollinaire the poet, author of Alcools and Calligrammes, is a familiar figure. However, there is perhaps a tendency to forget that he was also a prolific art critic who charted the stylistic revolutions of his era and had a significant influence on avant-garde movements. His motto was "I release wonder".
Apollinaire: a "Man [of his] Epoch"
Apollinaire was active as an art critic from 1902 to 1918. He witnessed and was an exceptional communicator of the birth of artistic movements which were to make a lasting impact. Alberto Savinio considered him to be a "Man-Epoch". Although Apollinaire (whose self-styled name places him under the protection of the Greek god of the sun) was naturally drawn towards literature, he also had a very keen interest in the visual arts. In 1901, he frequented museums in the Rhineland, before moving on to Berlin and Prague. When he returned to Paris, his first foray into literary and artistic milieux led him to visit Salons and exhibitions. He met a flurry of people including Derain, Vlaminck, Rousseau, Matisse, and Picasso. His article on Matisse in La Phalange in 1907 demonstrated his appreciation of modern experimentation. Many artists painted the poet and the most enigmatic portrait was by Giorgio de Chirico in 1914. Gertrude Stein and Picasso are recognisable in Apollinaire et ses amis, by Marie Laurencin (with whom he had a relationship). The poet’s correspondence also reveals his connections with the artistic and literary scene.
An unfettered vision
Apollinaire was always a man of very eclectic tastes. His curiosity encompassed the circus, posters and puppetry. He was also drawn to the theatre, hence his interest in Natalia Gontcharova, who designed the costumes and scenery for the Ballets russes production Le Coq d’or in 1914. The poet was equally keen on African art at a time when it was merely viewed as "exotic". He also drew inspiration from the Middle Ages, as can be seen in the book L’Enchanteur pourrissant (The Rotting Sorcerer) published with Derain in 1909, which featured woodcuts, following the example of Remy de Gourmont and Alfred Jarry in L’Ymagier. Jarry’s sense of comedy and love of mockery rubbed off on Apollinaire. Photographs of his apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Germain reveal his tastes in interior design in a scheme where avant-garde paintings, African statues and puppets all rub shoulders without differentiation.
The work which he dedicated to Cubism in 1913 entitled Les Peintres cubistes, Méditations esthétiques (The Cubist Painters. Aesthetic Meditations) is a reminder of his acute insight. He devoted individual chapters to Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. In 1911, he observed: "Despite its ugly name, this movement is now the highest of the visual arts". He penned the preface for the first Braque exhibition at the Kahnweiler gallery in 1908. Apollinaire maintained close relationships with famous gallery owners and art dealers in France and beyond, including Ambroise Vollard, Henri Kahnweiler and Paul Guillaume in Paris, Herwarth Walden in Berlin and Alfred Stieglitz in New York. He expressed his personal tastes and support for artists in the magazine Les Soirées de Paris, which he co-founded in 1912. However, his commitment to Cubist painting and sculpture did not preclude enthusiasm for other movements ranging from Fauvism to Orphism.
Apollinaire and Picasso
Apollinaire’s friendship with Picasso generated copious correspondence dating from February 1905 onwards. "Heaven knows, we often discussed art," recalls Apollinaire. Picasso created the frontispiece for the poet’s collection Alcools. The poem Pablo Picasso, published in the magazine SIC in 1917, is presented as a poetic portrait of the painter. Picasso cherished for the rest of his life the thirteen years in which he enjoyed the poet’s company. The portrait of Apollinaire crowned in laurels produced by Picasso in 1948 reflects this.
The Clock of Tomorrow
A calligram - formed by combining the words "calligraphy" and "ideogram" - is a poem set out on the page as a drawing, usually relating to the subject matter of the text. Guillaume Apollinaire invented the word and is the most famous and creative exponent of the art. L’Horloge de demain (The Clock of Tomorrow), the only calligram published in colour in 1917 in Picabia’s magazine 391, demonstrates how the poet had retained a desire for novelty after his years at the Front. He also coined the word “surrealism” in the programme for the famous ballet Parade, showcasing the combined talents of Picasso, Massine, Satie and Cocteau. His play Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias), which was staged in 1917, featured costumes and sets designed by the painter Serge Férat. This attention to all types of creative endeavour is also evidenced by his interest in the early days of cinema. He encouraged poets to harness the rich potential of this medium for which he wrote the cine-text La Bréhatine with André Billy. In 1914, his enthusiasm for Rythmes colorés (Coloured Rhythms), a series of paintings by Léopold Survage, was spurred by this interest in sequential images. As a close friend of Picabia, Duchamp, Soupault and Breton, Apollinaire provided a link with the up-and-coming generations of the avant-garde.
Apollinaire and Paul Guillaume
The two men became firm friends around 1910. They shared a taste for modern and non-Western art. Apollinaire was eleven years older than Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) and became his mentor and advised him on his choice of artists and African artworks. Paul Guillaume opened his first Parisian gallery in 1914 at the age of twenty-three. The poet was actively involved in the gallery and penned numerous prefaces to exhibition catalogues for his friends, notably for Larionov and Gontcharova in 1914, Derain in 1916, and the first joint exhibition of works by Matisse and Picasso in 1918. He also encouraged Guillaume himself to write and publish. Thus in 1918, Paul Guillaume launched the magazine Les Arts à Paris, drawing its inspiration directly from Apollinaire’s Les Soirées de Paris. In 1917, they co-authored Sculptures nègres (A First Album of Negro Sculpture), a valuable work extolling the wonders of African art, which fascinated them both. Greatly debilitated by his war injury, Apollinaire died prematurely of Spanish flu on 9 November 1918. He did not live to see the end of the war, but exerted a powerful influence on a whole generation. Breton said of him: "He was a great man. Lyricism personified."
Discover the exhibition with a guided tour by the exhibition curators: Laurence des Cars, director of the Musée de l'Orangerie, Cécile Girardeau, curator at the Musée de l'Orangerie, and Claire Bernardi, curator of Painting at the Musée d’Orsay.
Wednesday 13 April 2016 at 7pm
Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the exhibition on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 4pm, from 16 April to 16 July 2016.
Guided tours in French sign language (LSF) for the hearing-impaired are available on 4 and 25 June and 9 July 2016 at 11am.
Actors from the National Drama Centre Les Tréteaux de France, directed by Robin Renucci, join forces with university students, all Apollinaire specialists, to explore the links between the poet and the art world in all its forms.
Apollinaire and Paul Guillaume
Laurence Campa, lecturer at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre
Peter Read, Professor of Modern French Literature and Visual Arts at the University of Kent
Wednesday 18 May 2016 at 7pm
Picasso is a Celebration!
Emilie Bouvard, curator, Musée Picasso
Emilia Philippot, curator, Musée Picasso
Stéphane Guégan, art historian, Musée d’Orsay
Wednesday 25 May 2016 at 7pm
Apollinaire and the "Exotic" Arts
Maureen Murphy, art historian, Senior lecturer at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
Wednesday 1 June 2016 at 7pm