Sunday, 6 May 2012

Maison Jean Cocteau

Milly-la-Forêt (France)

Purchased in 1947 with Jean Marais, Jean Cocteau’s house in Milly-la-Forêt was the theater of creation for his most important works. Born within these walls were the unforgettable words of Testament d’Orphée and Requiem, along with numerous paintings, drawings, and pastels. He lived the last seventeen years of his life here with his companion, Edouard Dermit. From the death of the poet in 1963 until 1995, the latter watched over the objects that had made up Cocteau’s daily surroundings.

With its ideal position near the town center, the harmony of the buildings and gardens, and the aesthetic qualities of the property, Jean Cocteau chose to make his "refuge" a work of art in its own right, in keeping with his image, his reveries. Less than an hour from Paris, he created connections in Milly-la-Forêt between the space and his work, integrating set elements from his films–sculptures especially–into the gardens.

The Maison Jean Cocteau is an important expression of the artist’s tastes and private life, now offering the public, after five years of preparation, a perfect reconstitution of the bedroom, office, and main sitting room, which notably contains a masterly canvas by Christian Bérard. The renovations, led by architect François Magendie and the team of Dominique Païni-Nathalie Crinière (who organized the Jean Cocteau exhibit at the Centre Pompidou in 2003), also allow for the display of a selection of drawings from the Cocteau estate, which includes, in addition to the best of Cocteau, works by Picasso, Warhol, Modigliani, Buffet, Blanche, Man Ray... Photographs, manuscripts, letters, newspapers, and posters recall important moments from the life and work of Cocteau (film, theatre, music, childhood, adolescence, wars, friendships...). On the ground floor, a screening room will show films by and about the poet. Light dining is available under the pergola in the garden, and a museum shop concludes the visit.

The garden, orchard, and woodland (two hectares in all), entrusted to landscape architect Loïc Pianfetti, are also ideal places for the visitor to stroll. The main elements of this exterior are the omnipresent water, crossed by numerous footbridges, the colors of the flowerbeds (roses, peonies, lilies...), the fruit trees planted by Cocteau, and the neighboring chateau.

Pierre Bergé, who holds the moral rights to Jean Cocteau’s work and is the president and patron of this project, acquired the property in 2002, with the support of the Ile-de-France Regional Council and the General Council of the Essonne department (both of which were also partners in the refurbishing), in order to create a place to remember and rediscover Jean Cocteau’s work.

Just outside town, the Chapelle Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, with its frescoes by Jean Cocteau, houses his tomb. The opening of the Maison Jean Cocteau gives new resonance to his epitaph: "I remain with you."

Maison Jean Cocteau
15, rue du Lau
91490 Milly-la-Forêt

By Margaret Kemp in Bonjour Paris ( Buzz )

Jean Cocteau, poet, painter, filmmaker and actor, was sick of fans knocking on the door of his Paris home at 36 rue Montpensier, Palais Royal, to ask a question or get an autograph. Irritated when fans waited outside, he couldn't even pop across the road to Le Grand Vefour to dine with the likes of Colette in peace. So, in 1947 he bought a house, with his friend Jean Marais, at Milly-la-Foret, to the southeast of Paris, near Fontainebleau. "It is the house that was waiting for me far from the bells of the Palais Royal", he wrote.

With its ideal location near the tiny picture-postcard town centre, Cocteau considered Milly his retreat where he could get a bit of peace and quiet, enjoy creating the gardens, "learning about the magnificent stubborness of the vegetable kingdom", and making his "refuge" a living work of art in its own right. Cocteau loved the house more than Jean Marais and bought his share when Marais went on to other projects. He welcomed his celeb friends, Coco Chanel, Marcel Proust, Charlie Chaplin, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso, would read and write in the garden, cross the two little bridges by the neighbouring, now derelict, chateau and work late in his attic studio.

For the last seventeen years of his life Cocteau lived in Milly with Edouard Dermit, his companion. "Today the house is intact thanks to Edouard Dermit who, after Cocteau's death and before his own demise in 1995, preciously preserved an exceptional inheritance that includes objets d'art, works by Manet, Doré, Picasso, and Bérard", explains Pierre Bergé, President of the Board of Governors of The Maison Cocteau.

Pierre Bergé, a friend of Cocteau, acquired the house in 2002 and, with the support of Ile-de-France Regional Council and the General Council of the Essonne department, they set about creating a place to remember and rediscover Cocteau's genius. Five years and five million euros later, the house is once again receiving guests.

In charge of the renovations are architect Franҫois Magendie and the team of Dominique Paini and Nathalie Crinière, who organised the Cocteau exhibition at the Pompidou Center in 2003. The ground floor living room overlooks the gardens. There's also a screening room showing relevant films of and by Cocteau. The first floor bedroom with Cocteau's long narrow canopied bed and the office, with leopard-skin walls, where Cocteau worked have been re-created exactly as if he were returning tonight.

The rest of the house has been transformed into spaces to showcase Cocteau's work and his comprehensive collection of drawings, portraits and memorabilia. Take a stroll through his life, study the self portraits and a mobile which hangs from the ceiling in the former kitchen. Works by Picasso, Warhol's portraits of Cocteau, Modigliani, Buffet, Man Ray are in the disorderly living room; his mum obviously never stopped him from going out to tidy his room! Photographs, manuscripts, letters, newspapers, and posters recall important moments in films, theatre, music, his childhood, adolescence, two world wars and his friendships. Also present: a blackboard with reminders to "call Colette", finish Nijinsky drawing, etc. "That was Cocteau's I-pad", thinks Dominique Paini.

The two acres of gardens have been tweaked by landscape architect Loic Pianfetti, a vibrant "leisure" garden where roses, peonies, lilies and herbs grow in fragrant profusion, and in the sculpture garden two imposing stone sphinxes remain and a bust of a Turk, props from the set of Cocteau's film Beauty and the Beast. In the distance is an orchard, with trees planted by Cocteau, woodland reached by footbridges over the river which winds its way through the end of the garden.

On the edge of Milly, the 12th-century Chapelle-Saint-Blaise-des-Simples was decorated by Cocteau. The land around the chapel features a medicinal herb garden, and Cocteau created frescoes based on the herbs and flowers in the garden. He is buried in the chapel, and on the simple slab of a tomb, donated by the town of Menton, is written, "I remain with you", in his handwriting.

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