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Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

[16/09/2003]

 

Despite the publicity surrounding an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris), Jean Cocteau’s price index has slumped this year, dropping by 18% between January and September.

Jean Cocteau was born in 1889 to a middle-class family in a Paris suburb. In his mid-teens he began meeting prominent artists of the day, including the writers Alain Fournier, André Gide, Marcel Proust and Henri Ghéon. He first became known for his poetry, but over the years his versatile talent led him to work in film, drawings and ceramics. During his lifetime he produced four novels, seven plays, six films, various autobiographical works, several poetry collections, as well as thousands of drawings and sculptures and a large number of ceramics.

Artworks at auctions

Although Cocteau’s paintings, tapestries and photographic works are rare, his sculptures, ceramics, prints and drawings often come up for auction. These more common items represent 59% of lots sold, and 90% go for less than EUR 5,000. The most expensive sale of the last 10 years was Portrait de Paul Éluard (1942), a 90cm high charcoal drawing that fetched EUR 58,000 at Piasa on 28 October 1998. At the lower end, fans can find lithographs for around EUR 200, although more sought-after examples—such as Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Ballet Russe (1911)—can cost up to EUR 10,000. Somewhat surprisingly, original film posters, such as the Testament d’Orphée (1959) can fetch over EUR 1,500. As for ceramics, collectors will mostly find 30-40cm plates decorated with large coloured drawings in red or white earthenware: limited edition pieces change hands for EUR 1,000-1,500.

The market places

These ceramics are usually sold at Drouot or in the US or UK, often alongside works by Picasso or Léger. Taking ceramics, drawings and lithographs together, France leads the market in Cocteau’s work—hosting 53% of lots sold—although Germany and Switzerland are ahead on paper works alone.

Buy or sell

Jean COCTEAU’s index peaked in 2002. Between 1999 and 2002, prices for his unique pieces (mainly paintings and drawings) shot up 45%—although this performance did not extend to his prints, with prices falling between 2000 and 2002. Despite the publicity surrounding an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris), prices have slumped this year, dropping by 18% between January and September. The highest bid for a Cocteau in the first season this year was EUR 5,000 on 2 July for Mantonnaise et pêcheurs, la Baie des Anges, étude pour la chapelle (c.1956-1957) at Artcurial. Since 1 June, works priced above that level have failed to sell: of 27 drawings put up, only 12 found a buyer.

    Jean COCTEAUArtprice Indexall media categories, base January 1997 = 100   Jean COCTEAULots sold at auctions  Jean COCTEAUAuction sales turnover 1999-2002 / weight by country © Artprice

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