French poet, writer and critic, Guillaume Apollinaire is considered the “impresario of the French avant-garde” (Hajo Düchting). The illegitimate son of an eccentric and beautiful Polish noblewoman, Apollinaire was born in Rome then placed in the care of the Bishop of Monaco. In his youth, he traveled Europe, and attended various Catholic schools along the French Riviera, developed a passion for Symbolist and Naturalist writing, and ultimately settled in Paris at 18. Left to support himself due to his mother’s extravagance, he worked numerous jobs (secretarial, pornographic writing under a pseudonym, tutoring, banking) all while writing for magazines and his own poetry on the side.
In 1904, Apollinaire met Pablo Picasso who, in addition to become a lifelong friend, introduced him to Cubism. Apollinaire quickly became known as an experienced writer on and champion of new art, and began receiving literary recognition for his poetry by 1911. His temporary arrest in 1911 on suspicion of involvement in the theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre, however, threw Apollinaire’s life and work into crisis and marked a turning point in his career. He helped coin and promote Orphism, became inspired by Futurism and Simultanism, and began creating ideograms: images created from words, rich with references. In an effort to be acknowledged as a French citizen, Apollinaire joined the army in 1914, and after suffering a massive head wound in 1916, the Parisian art scene rejoiced at his return. A young Francis Poulenc attended the opening night of Apollinaire’s play Les Mamelles de Tirésias in June of 1917, which garnered a great deal of interest from the artistic community. His life cut short by Spanish Influenza, Apollinaire died in November of 1918, just months after his marriage to Jacqueline Kolb, his inspiration for the book of ideograms Calligrammes.
Learn More About Guillaume Apollinaire and Read His Poetry!
Poetry Foundation – Guillaume Apolinaire