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While the Pompidou Centre points out the enormous success of the show since it opened in September - not so much bums on seats, as bodies through mirrors (or something dangerously close: the dimly lit maze is littered with full-length mirrors and the show resounds to the muffled thud of bodies encountering unyielding surfaces) - Cocteau retains, even in death, the power to divide.Of the French daily broadsheets, Le Monde approved it, Le Figaro praised its variety and Libération loathed it.Born in 1889 to an upper-middle-class family (his lawyer father committed suicide when Jean was 10), Cocteau - an indifferent pupil whose main achievement during those years seems to have been his meeting with Dargelos, the brawny, schoolboy hunk who would serve as the template for many of his future erotic images - gained early attention as a teenage poet. He was presented to Empress Eugénie, the widow of Napoleon III, and secured the lifelong patronage of the formidable de Noailles family.Cocteau saw Sarah Bernhardt on stage and visited Marcel Proust in his cork-lined study where, he recalled, "dust covered the furniture like grey fur"; he knew the Dadaists, fought with the Surrealists and worked with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.The onslaught of so many self-portraits, so many objects, so many films whirring away, has the subtlety of an argument prosecuted by a sledgehammer.(Even when the curators go the risqué route - there is one section, coloured a coy red, where drawings depicting inventive ambisexual couplings are housed - you expect them to giggle at their own naughtiness.) And yet the Pompidou, very much the embodiment of state-sanctioned contemporary art in France, is determined that the show should begin a re-evaluation of Cocteau's work.Jean Cocteau is remembered for his experimental films and exquisite drawings.So why does a dark cloud hang over his reputation, asks Louise Gray.
He was gay, and, ipso facto, marginalised from the official avant-garde, who, whatever their revolutionary aesthetic proclivities, could, in matters of sexual mores, be surprisingly reactionary.
Fittingly, considering Cocteau's lifetime of restless activity, this magical, metaphorical doorway is an image that crops up time and again in his works.
The mirror figures literally in films such as La Belle et la Bête, Le Sang d'un Poète and Le Testament d'Orphée; it is understood as a precondition of Cocteau's endless self-portraits; and, translated into a different kind of narcissism, it is there in writings such as Les enfants terribles and the relentless auto-focus of his Opium journals, written during his periods of detoxication.
Cocteau was commemorated by artists as diverse as Modigliani, Picasso, Romaine Brooks and Lipschitz.
Warhol developed the vision of Cocteau as icon in a series of posthumous screenprints.
In short, Jean Cocteau was an artist who was mesmerised by himself.