Apollinaire, the Vision of the Poet at the Musée de l’Orangerie

Apollinaire, the Vision of the Poet at the Musée de l’Orangerie
Paris bursts into color every spring and summer as museums open their fresh bouquets of special temporary exhibitions. The 2016 art season is especially exciting with its trio of early modernist shows that weave together the life and legacy of poet, novelist, playwright and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). At the Musée de l’Orangerie, Apollinaire: Le Regard du Poète (The Vision of the Poet) captures the breadth of this extraordinary talent, whose social networking among visual artists surely influenced the Cubist Epoch and contributed to Surrealism. Apollinaire’s magic (“J’émerveille,” he would say) came from his appetite for life, love and art. He was a true bon vivant – open to adventure and amazement. As you enter the exhibition a map of Apollinaire’s connections to writers, artists and dealers provides a visual diagram of the numerous people represented in the show, either through their own creations or memorabilia. Stout and sturdy, Guglielmo Alberto Wladimiro Alessandro Apollinare de Kostrowitzky or Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki (aka Guillaume Apollinaire since 1899) was born in Rome to the Polish noblewoman Angelika Kostrowicki, whose survival tactics as a member of the “demi monde” gave her two sons (Wilhelm and Albert)– a colorful existence from day one. Their father remains unknown. Some sources claim it was Francesco Costantino Flugi d’Aspermont, Swiss aristocrat and Italian officer, who maintained a liaison with Angelika through 1885. The de Kostrowitzky family spoke French, Italian and Polish. While migrating from Italy to Monaco to Nice to Paris, the children immersed themselves in their studies at various schools. Wilhelm, as early as high school, devoted himself to writing. In 1914, he became a French citizen in order to enlist in the army to defend France during World War I. Among an abundance of portraits, the most haunting and uncanny is Giorgio di Chirico’s, painted in 1914, where we see a circle drawn on the left temple of the black silhouette – foreshadowing the wound Apollinaire sustained on his right temple, two years later, during the Great War. Apollinaire survived this wound, but died two years later at 38 on November 9th. Somewhat weakened in constitution, he succumbed to the Spanish Flu two days before the Armistice on November 11, 1918 (Veteran’s Day in America). As his friends paid their respects to his widow, Jacqueline, crowds outside chanted “A bas, Wilhelm/Guillaume” – referring to the Kaiser’s defeat. The coincidence invaded their grief and proved indelible in their collective memories. How does one sufficiently honor the life of a writer in visual terms? For the chief curator Laurence des Cars and her team, the answer filled seven rooms, each dedicated to a particular theme.  Rooms 1 and 2: “L’Homme-Epoch” (translated as “Man-Epoch,” but I would say “the Man and his Moment”) tackles the biographical information, printed on the walls in Room 2. Here art and artifacts illustrate the written word. Room 3: “An Unfettered Vision” attempts to encapsulate Apollinaire’s appreciation for a wide range of aesthetics: traditional academic art, antiquity, the avant-garde, African art, puppets, and the latest trends in popular culture. For example, the poster for the film Fantômas represents this 1911-13 series of books and films about a serial killer, which completely enthralled the poet and his gang. According to his close friend and colleague, poet/art critic André Salmon, Apollinaire proposed the idea for the Société à Fantômas, of which they, Picasso, Max Jacob, and Juan Gris were members. In this respect, the group’s desire to integrate high and low art laid the foundation for Pop art, which took off 50 years later. Room 4: “Aesthetic Meditations” (the title of Apollinaire’s 1913 book on Cubism) opens up into an enormous gallery subdivided into various sections that represent the complexity of the modern movements he supported in his critical essays. Much in evidence are the Cubists whom he sorted into four categories: Scientific, Physical, Orphic and Intuitive. Examples of works by Picasso, Braque, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay and Marie Laurencin illustrate his thesis. Room 5: “Apollinaire and Picasso” traces the relationship between the Spanish artist and multinational writer. Here the infamous story of Apollinaire’s arrest and detention in conjunction with the Mona Lisa theft in August 1911 reminds us of the ups and downs of this fruitful friendship. On display is the…

Lead photo credit : Picasso. "Apollinaire in Picasso’s Studio at 11, boulevard de Clichy, fall 1910." Enlarged through photographing for a new negative by Dora Maar, circa 1937-1940, silver-gelatin print, 23.7 × 17.9 cm. Paris, Musée national Picasso. ©Session Picasso.

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.