«The testament of Orpheus», the only cinematographic work of Picasso

"El testament d’Orfeu", l’únic treball cinematogràfic de PicassoLucien Clergue: Picasso at the shooting of the film by Jean Cocteau The testament of Orpheus. 18th September 1959. Les Baux-de-Provence. Jacqueline Roque, Lucia Bosé, Luis Miguel Dominguín. © Successió Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2017.


The photograph at the top of this article by Lucien Clergue, corresponds to the unique cinematographic scene of Pablo Picasso, excluding documentary images.  The film was The Testament of Orpheus, directed by the French filmmaker Jean Cocteau in 1959, and apart from Picasso there were also appearances by his second wife Jacqueline Roque, the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín and the actress Lucia Bosè.

The participation of Picasso in this film can be understood due to the friendship that he had with Jean Cocteau that he had kept up for more than four decades.  The first time that they had worked together was in 1916, when Cocteau, ideologist and set designer of the ballet Parade that the Ballets Russes performed in Barcelona, introduced him to the choreographer Serguei Diàguilev, who proposed him to design the costumes and scenery. As we saw in the exhibition 1917. Picasso in Barcelona, the work caused a great impact due to the audacity of the staging at a plastic, musical and narrative level.

The trust between Cocteau and Picasso was reaffirmed shortly after, in 1918, when the Cubist master asked him to be a witness at his wedding with the dancer Olga Khokhlova, together with Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1919, Cocteau dedicated a poetic ode to Picasso. And six years later, in 1924, Cocteau and Picasso collaborated again with the Ballets Russes of Diàguilev; In particular, in the work Le train bleu, with stage design of Cocteau and a canvas on which the work Deux femmes courant sur la plage, was painted by Picasso.

Therefore, when Cocteau started to experiment with cinema in the nineteen twenties and with greater dedication in the forties, his friendship with Picasso was much more consolidated.

In 1930, Cocteau directed the first part of a saga about the mythical Orpheus, called The Blood of a poet.  The second part, simply entitled Orpheus, was premiered in 1950. When the time came to close the trilogy with The Testament of Orpheus, Cocteau asked Picasso to join the long list of artist friends who formed part of his world, from Charles Aznavour to Brigitte Bardot, Yul Brynner and Jean-Pierre Léaud. Furthermore, the director counted on the economic support of François Truffaut.

The appearance of Picasso in this film only lasts a few seconds and is limited to the scene included in the photograph by Lucien Clergue, in which the artist catches the attention of his colleagues in the moment in which the poet, the star of the film, interpreted by Cocteau, passes by.  You can see the exact moment in this video, from minute 1’47”. Perhaps it’s not a performance deserving of an Oscar, but at least it is the proof, for one day, Picasso became a film actor.


Written by the Museum

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