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One evening in the winter of 1907, the dark and cramped room where Max Jacob lived in a courtyard seemed to me to have been transformed when it received the visit of a real magician. At his word, the white rocks of Monaco would appear on the blue background of the walls. Guillaume de Kostrowitzky - who was already writing under the name Guillaume Apollinaire - was exchanging memories of Monaco with Louis de Gonzague Frick.

On every occasion when people meet there are always sinister beings obsessed with ideas of race, of nation, of origin.

"You studied at Monaco but that is not at all where you were born?" he was asked.

"I'm sorry", the future author of Alcools replied, smiling: "I haven't yet chosen the country where I was born and I don't intend to choose it before I have undergone several years of meditation. I will tell you only that my father was a chamberlain to His Holiness the Pope."

That put a stop to any indiscretion and if ill-willed persons set traps for the newcomer they did so at their own expense. With a subtlety worthy of the Vatican, the poet slipped through the finest nets. His literary and artistic culture seemed to be without limits and I can affirm that so far as painting was concerned, despite its breadth it was not superficial. Talking about Picasso, he praised him for alternating strong forms and weak forms. In this way he displayed his knowledge of the Gestalttheorie which had just arisen in Germany and which I knew about by chance. Imagine that fifty years later most painters in France know nothing about it and a hundred times a day they pronounce the word 'form' without ever having wondered what it might mean.

A lively friendship was established between us and he proved it by defending my painting  at the risk of receiving abuse from other art critics as well as from the readers of the big daily papers that were open to his prose, to his shining countenance, to his aureole like the sun.


Apollinaire at that time was living on the rue Henner and in the evening he liked to climb up to the place du Tertre, coming to take a turn about the Acropolis.

It is sometimes very pleasant to be able physically to dominate a capital city, even if it is only by fifty metres. The poet was convinced that by the fact of living lower than himself, Parisians in their thousands, in their tens of thousands, would be compelled to submit to his poetry. And, just as they came to hand, he flung down upon them romantic boulders, an avalanche of pebbles, stars torn out of their orbits. Max Jacob shared his exaltation, at least when he wasn't trembling at the sight of the basilica and didn't declare himself overwhelmed under the weight of his latest sin.

Often we were joined by Maurice Princet. Although very young, he held an important post in an insurance company which he owed to his knowledge of mathematics. But outside his profession it was as an artist that he thought of mathematics, as a specialist in aesthetics that he evoked continuities in n dimensions. He liked to interest painters in the new visions of space that had been opened up by Victor Schlegel and several others. He succeeded. After having heard him by chance, Henri Matisse was caught reading an essay on hyperspace. Oh! it was only a potboiler [un ouvrage de vulgarisation]! but at least that shows that for the great 'fauve' the days of the painter who knows nothing, who runs towards a pretty subject with his beard blowing in the wind, was passed.

As for Picasso, the specialist was amazed by the rapidity of his understanding. The tradition he came from had prepared him better than ours for a problem to do with structure. And Berthe Weil was right when she treated those who compared him/confused him with, a Steinlen or a Lautrec as idiots. (4) He had already rejected them in their own century, a century we had no intention of prolonging. Whether or not the Universe was endowed with another dimension, art was going to move into a different field.

(4)   Note that in Modern Painting (elsewhere on this site), an essay that can be read as a critique of Metzinger, Gleizes accuses Picasso of running after Lautrec and the artists of his generation.

The illusion had been maintained up to 1906 or 1907 through the negligence of those whose job it was to clear away the rubbish, but the break was achieved in 1908. No-one would again dare to look at a Puvis de Chavannes or read Balzac. No-one, I mean, among those who walked above the Moulin Rouge, which they would never even have thought of entering.


It was at Max Jacob's that I met Guillaume Apollinaire. To that sort of cellar, where the author of the Cornet à dès invited his friends every Monday in the rue Ravignan, the new visitor brought something of the warm clarity of the Côte d'Azur. I was quickly entranced by the smiling certainty with which he approached every subject and which, as I discovered later, concealed a character that was restless to the point of nervous tension.

Our relations quickly became friendly. I have difficulty turning it into anecdotes since Apollinaire's life was anything but anecdotal. If he had adventures, sometimes very awkward ones, they certainly hadn't been provoked by him. Guillaume was prudent and puritanical. This 'fantasist' never missed a rendezvous without presenting his apologies in good time like a well brought up member of the bourgeoisie. He never tried to give himself 'artistic' airs by forgetting his tie, or his brief case, he didn't look for inspiration in strange bars or brothels and was perfectly happy to spend his time at home working.

Yes, his conversation was an enchantment. Already his most everyday remarks would reveal the faculty that makes up the essence of his poetry and out of which his imitators were, subsequently, to devise a system. Wanting to compare one object to another, he always chose quite naturally those characteristics that were most different, most distant. The resulting effect of surprise was never irritating because the connection between the two was always felt. One has never to have known the author of Alcools, or to have understood him badly, to think it took an effort on his part to write 'these waves of bricks' or when he compares the moon surrounded by clouds to an egg, sunny side up on a plate.

He never talked about the subconscious, but he was himself unconscious of his own discoveries to the extent that he gave his admiration to writers who were never able to boast of an original metaphor. Did he not confide in me that he preferred Moréas to Rimbaud? Did we not squabble a hundred times over Fernand Fleuret in whom I could never see anything other than a bookish versifier? It is there, in his naivete, that I see the proof of his sincerity; that is why I could never bear that he should be called an artificial poet. His poetry was only the clarification [mise au point] of everything that he lived in the words he used, no matter how spontaneous they were.

He was interested in my painting and made use of all his talent to defend it in the reviews and even - and this required courage - in a daily paper for which he had started to write. I undertook to do his portrait. (5) A mutual friend would have wanted him posed dressed in purple and crowned with roses. I liked the idea because of the play of colours this charade [travestissement] would have permitted; the subject protested - he did not want to look like an itinerant emperor [empereur forain]. I had to make do with a sober grey suit.

(5)  Apollinaire: Chroniques d'Art gives no mention of Metzinger prior to the portrait, exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1910. Metzinger's contributions to this Salon are praised halfheartedly; the contributions to the 1910 Salon d'Automne are savaged. It is only after the Salon des Indépendants of 1911 that Apollinaire could be said to support him.

Jean Metzinger: Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire, 1910
Oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm.
On sale in Christies, Paris, 2007

We often met in the little restaurants of Montmartre where we would have passed unnoticed had it not been for the presence of Max Jacob who, adorning his head with a top hat and his feet with pink slippers, obliged us to dine under a hail of ribald remarks. As he replied in a lively fashion we often came close to a fight: at that point, we had to make way for Apollinaire's verbal dexterity which calmed things down more surely than the fists of the Auvergnat patron or the appearance of uniforms would have done. I never, whether in these restaurants or at his own table, saw any sign of the gastronomic eccentricities which legend has ascribed to Guillaume Apollinaire. I do not think that would ever have taken pleasure in a mixture of chocolate cream and mustard, as I was assured recently by a young literary person; I do remember a strange supper he offered Max Jacob and myself in his new apartment in Auteuil. This supper consisted uniquely of raw apples and cognac. For fear of committing the sin of intemperance, Max Jacob hardly drank at all and ate fourteen rainettes; two were enough for me but, by contrast, I overdid the cognac. We left about three o'clock in the morning. From our first steps in the open air, the place Clichy seemed to us to be beyond our reach. Max held his stomach and I was unable to hold anything, especially in a vertical position. Scorned by the cabdrivers, we collapsed on a bench in the quai de Grenelle. It was one of those benches made up of two planks separated by a back rest. My companion flat on his stomach on one of them groaned horribly. I, lying on the other, advised him to offer up his suffering to the Lord. Our memories became dim and we never knew by what supernatural power we were driven right to that terrace on the rue Damrémont where, a few hours later, we were discussing the lovely poem:

Sirènes j'ai rampé vers vos
Grottes, tiriez aux mers la langue ...

The first reading of which easily made up for the absence of any chicken in jelly or pâté de foie gras. (6)

(6)   'Lul de Faltenin' in Alcools, dedicated, as it happens, to Louis de Gonzague Frick.