Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) has been called the most versatile artist of the twentieth century, and in this case hyperbole has at least some basis in reality. Born to a middle-class family in Paris, he excelled from youth in an almost absurd range of fields: filmmaking, poetry, graphic art, fiction, drama, couture, even postage-stamp design. Most of all, Cocteau was a brilliant, witty, self-invented personality whose talents put him at the forefront of practically every "ism" of the century, from surrealism to modernism to dada. The persistence of fairy tale, mythological, and other classical motifs in his work adds a gravitas — a word Cocteau would no doubt bristle at, as being much too serious — that makes it arguably unique in modern art.
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