Guillaume Apollinaire

French Art Critic, Poet, Playwright

Born: August 26, 1880
Rome, Italy
Died: November 9, 1918
Paris, France
If painters still observe nature, they no longer imitate it, and they carefully avoid the representation of natural scenes observed directly or reconstituted through study. Modern art rejects all the means of pleasing that were employed by the greatest artists of the past: the perfect representation of the human figure, voluptuous nudes, carefully finished details etc.

Summary of Guillaume Apollinaire

The name of Guillaume Apollinaire is synonymous with the rise of the early-twentieth-century avant garde. A fixture of Parisian café society, he rubbed shoulders with other young bohemians, making friends with numerous artists including Raoul Dufy, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Pablo Picasso. Though not a painter himself, nor formally schooled in art history (unlike, say, Vasari or Greenberg, writers who brought their own indominable influence to bear on Renaissance Art and Abstract Expressionism respectively), he was an enthusiastic, infatigable, champion of the modernists, and is credited with alerting these kindred spirits to the new artistic horizons opened up by studying African masks and the "naïve" paintings of Henri Rousseau. Through his lyrical art criticism, for which he remains best remembered, Apollinaire did more than any other writer of his generation in establishing the legends of some of the most important artists of the century.


Biography of Guillaume Apollinaire

This sculpture by Picasso, Head of a Woman (Dora Maar) was unveiled in 1959 as an homage to Apollinaire. To this day, the tribute stands in the garden next to the church in the intimate St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris.

Guillaume Apollinaire and Important Artists and Artworks

Women Bathing (1900)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Five nude women in the woods, clustered in a circle in a variety of seated, crouching, and standing positions dominate the foreground of Paul Cézanne's painting. While the women are engaged in the basic act of cleansing, here in the artist's masterful hands they possess a sense of graceful movement and rhythm which imbues the act of bathing with an almost sensual quality. A masterpiece of Post-Impressionism, the forest background in which the figures are placed is rendered in loose brushstrokes of brown, greens, and yellow. For Apollinaire, "the trees in these delicate landscapes are so alive that they appear almost human".

When considering the pantheon of nineteenth-century artists, Apollinaire wrote that "Paul Cézanne must be reckoned one of the greatest". During his short career, he wrote many reviews of key Parisian exhibitions and salons. It was during a review of a 1910 exhibition of Cézanne's work at the Bernheim Gallery that he specifically distinguished his paintings of women bathing as proof of his skill in extending the long tradition of female nudes into the realm of modernity. He wrote "[the painting] constitutes a formidable argument against the critics who used to tell us in their inimitable fashion that Cézanne did not know how to paint nudes".

Acrobat and Young Harlequin (1905)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Early in his career, Picasso took as his subject humble performers for a series of paintings such as this one depicting a young man dressed in a red clown costume who rests his hand on the shoulder of a boy posing in an acrobat's leotard with a multicolored diamond design. Even before heralding his development of Cubism, Apollinaire discussed some of Picasso's early paintings, including those of performers, in one of his first articles about the artist. Written for the May 1905 issue of La Plume magazine, it was, according to author Leroy Breunig, "the first serious piece to appear on the Spanish painter, and for Apollinaire it was only the beginning of a series of eulogies of the artist whom he considered without question the greatest of his generation".

Set against a background of barely discernible buildings, the scene is rendered in a soft palette of blues, browns, and white and yet the presence of the vibrant shades of red in both the outfits and pot of flowers behind them firmly place this work among those of the artist's rose period. Even here, however, Apollinaire was able to see the modernity in Picasso's approach and he acknowledged how in this work, "color has the flat quality of frescoes, and the lines are firm". Distinguishing Picasso's style from the art of the past, Apollinaire added that, "one cannot confuse these saltimbanques [acrobats] with mere actors on a stage. The spectator who watches them must be pious, for they celebrate wordless rites with painstaking agility. This is what distinguishes this painter from the Greek potters, whom his drawing sometimes calls to mind. On the painted vases, bearded, verbose priests sacrificed resigned animals bound to destiny. In these paintings virility is beardless, but it manifests itself in the muscles of the skinny arms and flat cheekbones, and the animals are mysterious".

His praise for this painting is an important contribution to the writer's faith in the young Pablo Picasso's potential. There was something Apollinaire admired about the stark humanity of these figures. Brought to life through Picasso's capable hands, they are not mere figure studies, but rather suffering creatures whose lives are spent in the role of entertaining others which, according to Apollinaire, was supported by the observation that "the cheeks and brows of taciturn clowns are withered by morbid sensibilities".

The Muse Inspiring the Poet (1909)

Artist: Henri Rousseau

In The Muse Inspiring the Poet (the second of two versions featuring this subject), Rousseau has shown a couple standing in a landscape with trees in the background and a row of pink, red, and white flowers in front of them. Here Rousseau has in fact depicted Apollinaire with his then girlfriend, artist Marie Laurencin, appearing as his muse, arm raised in a fashion reminiscent of the mythological goddess of the art of antiquity. Here Rousseau pays homage to the creative genius of Apollinaire by depicting him holding a scroll of paper and feather quill pen.

Interestingly, when the work was created many failed to recognize Apollinaire's likeness in the male figure. This shocked the poet who wrote of it in 1914, "some found the painting touching, others thought it bordered on the grotesque, but as far as the resemblance was concerned, everyone was in agreement: there was none at all". However, Apollinaire felt the painting accurately represented him stating, "I tend to think that that portrait was such a good likeness - at once so striking and so new - that it dazzled even those who were not aware of the resemblance and did not want to believe in it. Painting is the most pious art".

Cite article
Correct article