Vast collection of artworks by Jean Cocteau will auction at Bonhams

A remarkable collection of drawings, pastels and ceramics by the French poet, filmmaker, playwright and novelist, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) is to be sold at Bonhams, Knightsbridge on September 23.

The collection was brought together by the late business tycoon and founder of Gucci timepieces Severin Wunderman (1939-2008), and kept in his 12-bedroom chateau in the South of France.

Although famous for his films (Beauty and the Beast, 1946, Orpheus, 1949), novels (Les Enfants Terribles, 1929) and plays (Le Bel Indifferent, 1940), Cocteau also produced thousands of artworks throughout his lifetime, in part because he is said to have found art therapeutic.

One of the greatest avant-garde artists of his generation, Jean Cocteau worked in a variety of mediums, from ceramics to oils and pastels. He once commented: "Art is not a pastime but a priesthood."

Jean Cocteau Le Clown au Chapeau Rouge, pastel, signed by the artist

Using a range of celebrity friends as subjects, from artists and writers, such as Picasso, Jean Hugo and Guillaume Apollinaire, to stars of the theatrical world including Diaghilev, Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf, his ironic caricatures give a snapshot of the best of early 20th century artistic output that revolved around Cocteau and his circle.

They also provided amusement to many, including Coco Chanel, who suggested he turn his hand to fashion design.

Wunderman was his biggest fan and is considered to have been the world's largest collector of works by Jean Cocteau. He kept the majority in his Cote D'Azur chateau which included a suite in which the entire sitting area and bedroom were covered from floor to ceiling in the artist's drawings.

Highlights among over 70 lots offered in this sale include Le Clown au Chapeau Rouge (estimated at £5,000 - 7,000); Still life of flowers and paintbrushes resting on a table (estimated at £8,000 - 12,000); Pablo Picasso (estimated at £3,000 - 5,000); as well as several self-portraits.

In 2004, Wunderman was honoured with the title of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, for his cultural and philanthropic work.

Proceeds from this sale will go to the Severin Wunderman Family Foundation, a charity that supports research into incurable diseases.

Meanwhile, if you're  on the lookout for Cocteau memorabilia, a signed and inscribed copy of his famous 1943 play L'Aigle à deux têtes - known in English as The Eagle with Two Heads - the tale of a grieving Queen who gives shelter to an anarchist poet, is currently for sale on the market.

Published in 1948 by Vision Press limited, this hardback version of the book has been signed and inscribed by Cocteau: "Souvenir de Paris et de New York, Jean Cocteau," with a unique abstract face drawn above the autograph.


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