On the Jean Cocteau Trail on the Cote d'Azur - more Francophile travel on the French Riviera
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Welcome to the Jean Cocteau Trail, in Episode 2 of the podcast, which I've been exploring on a journey and exploration of the Côte d'Azur and its hidden gems. The first Season of the France Where You Are podcast (for curious francophiles everywhere), is all about the quirky and hidden side to this glittering coastline.
If you haven't listened to the podcast yet, just go over to this page to see the first Season. You can listen anywhere you get your podcasts on Apple or Android.
🇫🇷 In episode 2, I've been exploring some of the legacy of artist, poet and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau. So I'd like to show you some more images and more information on the places mentioned in the podcast.
First, we explored the Bastion museum as the main Jean Cocteau museum - the Séverin Wunderman collection - which is sadly closed for important repairs and restoration following an unusual storm causing severe water damage.
At the Bastion we heard about the film La Belle et la Bête or Beauty and the Beast. The Jean Cocteau treatment of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince. A visually stunning and haunting piece of film, it is a must-see. Find out more details, facts and cast and crew details on imdb.com.
The latest exposition at the museum, is all about Jean Cocteau Design. You can explore a little on their website (linked below) and they even have some creative activity suggestions for making ordinary things into art. 🙂 It's also great practice if you're learning French.
🇫🇷 I am pleased to say that wherever you are in the world, you can also explore through a Virtual Visit. Here is the link to that virtual tour. Enjoy!
Next we went further into Menton to discover its Salle des Mariages. A beautiful registry office like no other. It is a one-off masterpiece entirely conceived by Jean Cocteau and created to that vision. In these amazing images from the time, you can see him working away on both the Salle des marriages and the chapel at Villefranche-sur-Mer (Chapelle Saint Pierre). See also the video linked below.
The Salle des mariages is a very special place and the murals depict a couple getting married dressed as they are in traditional clothing of the town. Much of the design is inspired by Orphée and Eurydice and has an allegorical, mythical quality to it.
France is very much in evidence too with the depiction of Marianne, the symbol of France, in the mirrored entry/exit for wedding parties.
Images of Jean Cocteau artwork and Marianne are copyright France Where You Are.
Moving on from Menton, we saw the little hints of Jean Cocteau being close by in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with this public artwork like a distance marker for Cocteau fans, and a reminder that Villa Santo Sospir is nearby. Sadly, still closed at the moment for the important renovations which are being undertaken.
You can find out more about the amazing villa at their website (linked below).
I also mentioned that I contented myself with Virgina Johnson's beautiful depiction of that villa and so much beauty here on the Côte d'Azur, so if you want to dip your toes into the water here, do so virtually through her beautiful watercolours. I'll link to the book below. It is abeautiful book from its physical form and binding to the contents of Virginia Johnson's wonderful style of free, colourful watercolours. A joy.
St - Jean - Cap - Ferrat
Villa Santo Sospir was built just after WWII and belonged to Alec and Francine Weisweiller. Introduced by one of the actor's in Jean Cocteau's film "Les enfants terribles" Francine and Jean, by all accounts hit it off right away.
I love the description of the two eccentrics being drawn to each other - a real coup de foudre.
If you love travelling back in time, like me, then you might just love this fascinating gem I have uncovered. The full blog post is here and the amazing tour of villa created as a film in 1952 by Cocteau himself, see the video here. Watching that I feel like am in post-war St - Jean - Cap - Ferrat with ideas of how to create art and poetry in the aftermath of war. Jean Cocteau is the voiceover and so this really is very special!
Jean Cocteau stayed at the house and started by asking if he could paint the head of Apollo above the fireplace in the living room, as he wanted to avoid being idle. From there, it seems, he was given permission to keep going and he decorated freehand throughout the villa for 12 years using many themes from Greek mythology and local references from food to fishermen. Some of these themes he returned to again and again through his films too. Almost every surface is decorated including mosaics outside in the garden.
Of his time at the villa Cocteau said, “When I was working at Santo Sospir, I became myself a wall and these walls spoke for me.” It was an important time in his life, and the result was this hidden artistic treasure.(quoted from Atlas Obscura)
Keeping going on the Cocteau trail we find ourselves in Villefranche - sur - Mer with plenty of interest here for our trail finders. Jean Cocteau is here forever in this bust created by down on the quayside. Close by is the Welcome Hotel and of course, the incomparable fishermen's chapel.
After his vision had become reality and he had completed the renovation and decoration of the chapel, the local fishermen gifted him a gold sardine as a gesture of thanks (you can see this in the special image below.)
With memories of Jean Cocteau somehow in the air here, I hope you've enjoyed the Jean Cocteau trail. The Victorine Studios in Nice could be a conclusion, but sadly there are no tours and not a lot to see given the transient nature of film props. But to enjoy the legacy of Cocteau here in person is particular special and to do so at a distance is possible through the videos, books, links and the films,poetry and art he left behind.
If you're inspired to explore more Cocteau, or this area, here is a handy rundown of links.
Episode Links and Places
🇫🇷 Salle des mariages, Menton
🇫🇷 Video on the Salle des Mariages (in French with vintage audio quality)
🇫🇷 Jean Cocteau museum (Séverin Wunderman Collection, closed this year)
🇫🇷 Villa Santo Sospir (closed until September 2021)
🇫🇷 1952 film tour of the villa by Jean Cocteau
🇫🇷 Architectural Digest magazine article on Santo Sospir
🇫🇷 Tourist office at St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
🇫🇷 The chapel at Villefranche-sur-Mer: Chapelle Saint Pierre (Michelin Guide)
🇫🇷 Tourist office of Villefranche (walking tours and maps)
🇫🇷 Victorine studios, Nice
There are some amazing Blu-ray restorations of several of Cocteau's films and some lovely DVD collection boxsets. The film I mentioned earlier is the collaboration of Jean-Pierre Melville (director) and Cocteau entitled "Les enfants terribles"
The Orphic Trilogy (US) Amazon US
Jean Cocteau Collection (UK/EU edition) Amazon UK
Le Testament d'Orphée (UK/EU edition; filmed at Villa Santo Sospir) Amazon UK
Les Parents Terribles (4K restoration US edition) Amazon US
Please join me next time for another episode of France Where You Are - the podcast for curious Francophiles everywhere.
Until next time, à bientôt !