Jean Marais (1913-1998) is justly famous for his cinematic career and for his creative and personal partnership with Jean Cocteau (the two remained together from 1937 until Cocteau’s death in 1963). Far less is known, however, about his…
Jean Marais (1913-1998) is justly famous for his cinematic career and for his creative and personal partnership with Jean Cocteau (the two remained together from 1937 until Cocteau’s death in 1963). Far less is known, however, about his extraordinarily varied life as an artist. As Marais himself remarked in 1992, “I discovered painting when I was 10, design when I was 50, pottery when I was 73.”
This wonderful exhibition at the Musée de Montmartre (Marais lived in Montmartre from 1980 until his death 18 years later) covers all facets of his creative life. His cinematic and theatrical roles, including such classics as La Belle et la Bête, Orphée and Les Parents Terribles, are given due prominence, with hundreds of documents, photographs and even costumes displayed.
The original mask, designed by a leading couturier of the time, that Marais wore as the beast in Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946) is on show, and we learn that before filming each day, Marais had to spend five hours having makeup and the mask applied. Talk about devotion to one’s craft!
One small room is devoted to the relationship between Cocteau and Marais. Certainly Marais’s cinematic star waned considerably after Cocteau’s death, but I was astounded to discover quite how creative he was in other ways before, during and after the years spent with Cocteau.
The basement area contains much of Marais’ artwork, including a nude self-portrait painted when he was 22, various oil paintings, line drawings (extremely similar to Cocteau’s drawings; who influenced whom, one wonders?), gouaches and pottery sculptures, all of which stand on their own for their technical expertise and sheer talent. Elsewhere, we see examples of clothes and even a perfume that he designed.
All the written commentaries accompanying the exhibition are in both French and quaintly Gallic English. In a separate house on the premises, a 30-minute film (in French only) about Marais’s career is being shown; it is worth sparing time for, even though the sound quality is poor and it is projected on a screen half the size needed.
Musée de Montmartre: 12, rue Cortot, 75018 Paris. Métro: Abbesses. Tel.: 01 49 25 89 39. Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: €7. Through May 3. www.museedemontmartre.fr
© 2009 Paris Update
Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).