Max Jacob was a French poet, painter, writer, and critic.
He later wrote of his first encounter with Picasso’s work at the artist’s first Parisian exposition in 1901, that " I was so dazzled by his production that I, as a professional art critic, had left [him] an admiring note" . Indeed that evening would prove fateful in the lives of both Picasso and Jacob. At the subsequent urging of Jacob, their mutual friend, Guillaume Apollinaire, introduced the two over drinks several weeks later . The two would take to each other almost immediately, in part out of mutual interest, in part out of necessity. At the time, both Picasso and Jacob were living in near penury, “Naturally then,” Jacob writes, “Picasso came to live in my room, boulevard Voltaire, on the fifth floor. It was a vast room. Picasso painted all night. And when I was getting up to go to work at the department store, he was going to bed to get some rest” . But, as Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson writes, this was in fact a myth the two men would create to conceal the intimate, romantic relationship that developed between them over the course of their years together.
Jacob would again mention the “vast room” they shared in a poem scrawled on the back of a 1906 sketch of himself done by Picasso, Etude d’homme, drawn just before Picasso moved out. It reads, “the house where my beloved lived”. Clearly, their relationship was, at least for Jacob, profoundly intimate.
It seems unlikely that poor Max Jacob, Jewish, homosexual, (and apparently ashamed of both) posed any serious threat to the German war effort. All the same, in accordance with the official policy of the occupying authority in Paris, he was detained early in 1944 and removed to a transit camp, his ultimate destination being, it seems, a labour camp in the East. At once, the poet’s friends and admirers, led by Jean Cocteau, petitioned for his release. But the signature of a very old friend was requested and refused. That signature might have carried some weight because the Germans, while not perhaps over-awed by Picasso or his art, found it necessary to pay some regard to his international following and reputation. But, once again, the self-styled rebel found it convenient to keep on the right side of authority when the chips were down. Max Jacob died in the Drancy deportation camp on March 5, 1944, suffering from bronchial pneumonia.
I have added Max Jacob into this series about Picasso’s women, because I think that his case exemplifies that Picasso wasn’t just cruel to women. There are many examples of his cruelty towards his male friends, either gay or straight. The case of Max Jacob also demonstrates what a coward Picasso was. He really would not have been in danger from the Nazis ….his public profile was too big.
I guess an important question for me is the separation of the man and the art. I liked Picasso’s art for its brute force and lyricism combined. Then I discovered these facts about the man behind the art, mostly from Huffington’s “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer” and I could suddenly see the brutality in some of his art. The cutting apart involved in cubism, became the literal physical damage he did to his women.
It concerns me that the legend largely ignores Picasso’s sadistic behaviour. Or worse, it assumes that artists live by different rules, so it’s OK. Sadism, cruelty and domestic violence are never OK.
Three of his poems:
Poem in a Mode that Isn’t Mine
to you, Rimbaud
My horse tripped over the semiquavers! The notes splatter up to the green sky of my soul: the eighth sky!
Apollo was a doctor and me I’m a pianist of the heart, if not in fact. It would be necessary, with the flats and all the bars, to unload the scribbled steamers, to collect the tiny battle flags to compose some canticles.
The minuscule, it’s huge! Whoever conceived Napoleon as an insect between two branches of a tree, who painted him a nose too large in watercolor, who rendered his court with shades too tender, wasn’t he greater than Napoleon himself, o Ataman Prajapati!
The minuscule, it’s the note!
Man bears upon himself photographs of his ancestors like Napoleon bore God, o Spinoza! Me, my ancestors, these are the notes of harps. God had conceived St. Helena and the sea between two branches of a tree. My black horse has a good eye, though albino, but he tripped on the harp notes.
Poem of the Moon
There are on the night sky three mushrooms, which are the moon. As abruptly as sings the cuckoo from a clock, they rearrange themselves each month at midnight. There are in the garden some rare flowers which are little men at rest that wake up every morning. There is in my dark room a luminous shuttle that roves, then two … phosphorescent aerostats, they’re the reflections of a mirror. There is in my head a bee that talks.
Translated from the German or the Bosnian
To Madame Edouard Fillacier
My horse stops! I fear yours stops as well, comrade! between the slopes of the hill and us, the grassy slopes of the hill, it’s a woman, if it’s not a great cloud. Stop! she calls me! she calls me and I see her beating breast! her arm signals me to follow, her arm … if her arm is not a cloud.
– Stop, comrade, I’m afraid, stop! Between the trees on the hill, the tilted trees on the hill, I saw an eye, if this eye was not a cloud. It fixes me, disturbs me; stop! It follows our steps on the road, if this eye is not a cloud.
– Listen, comrade! phantoms, lives of this world or another, we don’t speak of these beings in the village so as not to be treated as irksome.