If you like movies, then you probably have at least a passing familiarity with French director/artist Jean Cocteau. Maybe you picked up La Belle et la bête (1946) or Orphée (1950) during a half-price Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble. Maybe someone in film school made you watch Le Sang d’un Poète (1930) in some experimental film class and you thought: “What is this? This is some weird ass shit but…I like it! It’s definitely different than those other experimental guys. I might be able to get down with…what’s this dude’s name? Cocteau?”
Most cinephiles and culture vultures know the basics: Cocteau was French. He was gay. His social set was expansive, attracting everyone from Proust, Man Ray, and Pablo Picasso to queer artists like Gertrude Stein, Jean Genet, and Marlene Dietrich. Basic knowledge is fine if that’s all you want, but Jean Cocteau is SO much more interesting. His art was hot, his writing was beautiful, he was controversial…but let’s get real: What makes this Frenchman unique?
He loved the hell out of cats and he was not afraid to let the world know it!
Cocteau was romantically involved with his lead actor, Jean Marais for over two decades. It’s unclear whether Marais also enjoyed cats so that part of their affair is still a mystery. We do know that Cocteau firmly supported his lover’s close relationship with the dog he saved during WWII, Muluk.
What is it they say—opposites attract? If that’s the case and if we place cats and dogs on the spectrum as polar opposites, then these two men probably had a banging sex life! While Marais, son of a veterinarian, was fond enough of his dog to take glamour shots with him and signed autographs on pictures that featured himself and Muluk together, Jean Cocteau was much more than your average cat guy. More than your average cat lady, even. Cocteau believed in felines.
Jean Cocteau illustrated this lovely book of poetry in 1962, ‘La dame aux Chats’ (The Lady with Cats).
These days Jean Cocteau might even be more notable on the internet for his heavily meme-d quotes about cats than for his elegant film work.
1) “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
2) “I prefer cats over dogs because police cats don’t exist.”
Cocteau made a great deal of art, but he made a lot of cat-related art. Not only is it vast and multi-faceted, spanning from sculpture to murals to sketch, it’s also extremely joyful. The Cocteau cats are a real treasure.
Cocteau painted this in the local chapel near where he lived in Milly-la-Forêt, in 1959, where he wished to be buried (and was). It is still there.
As a cat lover, Cocteau shared his home with multiple feline companions. While not able to divine every furry friend’s name, two of his marvelous cats went by Madeline and Karoun. Cocteau was quite close with Karoun and nicknamed his furry buddy “King of Cats,” even dedicating a whole book to him! Lucky cat!
Portrait of Jean Cocteau’s Cat, Paris, 1948 by Vilem Kriz. This lovely Siamese is likely Madeline. Whatta face!
There are rumors that Cocteau got his love for cats from his friend and neighbor, writer Colette. She was also a massive cat-a-holic. Either way, Jean was in it to win it. He knew the score where purring and making muffins with paws was concerned.
In Paris, there was a club for people who loved cats. Because of course there was. Jean Cocteau became a highly regarded member, participating regularly and eventually getting voted in as the club President, an honor that friend Beulah Spiegelgasse Roth says, “[probably] meant more to [Cocteau] than being a member of the Academie Française.” This club benefited greatly from the celebrity artist’s involvement. He designed an exquisite emblem for the membership pin and continued to contribute art to the Club as it flourished.
Here is a fabulous picture of Cocteau enjoying a Club des amis des Chats event with a mighty blue Persian and Japanese artist and cat enthusiast Fujita Tsuguharu:
Obviously, if you haven’t seen Cocteau’s films you should fix that. Immediately. His dark lyrical fairytale-ness is genius and if you like Guillermo del Toro or David Lynch, there is probably something for you in his cinema. His art is another world that is 100% worth a look-see. And really, he loved cats. Do you really need to know anything more?