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Jean Cocteau Severin Wundeman Collection Museum opens in Menton, France
Various artworks on display at the Jean Cocteau Severin Wunderman Collection Museum in Menton, France. EPA/PATRICK VAROTTO.

MENTON.- Jean Cocteau first visited, and fell in love with, Menton while staying with his friend Francine Weissweiller in Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat, in the summer of 1955. He would return to the town on a regular basis.

In 1956, at the mayor's request, he began painting a huge fresco in the Town Hall's Wedding Room, completing the work in 1958. He was subsequently declared an honorary citizen of Menton.

While out walking one day, Cocteau came upon the Bastion, an abandoned seventeenth-century fort, built into the jetty. He decided he would transform it into a setting for his work, designing its interior himself.

The Bastion Museum opened in 1966, three years after Cocteau's death. It is still home to some of his "Mediterranean" works from the period 1950 to 1963.

Severin Wunderman, collector and donator
Born in Belgium in 1938 and exiled to the United States during the Second World War, Severin Wunderman made his career in luxury watches.

An art lover and great admirer of Jean Cocteau, he acquired the first piece in his collection - an original drawing for Les Enfants Terribles - by chance. It cost the 19-year-old apprentice-watchmaker his entire first wages.

Severin Wunderman built his collection over time, and in 1985 set up a first Jean Cocteau museum in Irvine (California). However, his dearest wish was that a large part of his collection should return to France and a museum there.

Like Cocteau, Severin Wunderman fell under Menton's spell. It was here that he met Jean-Claude Guibal, a member of parliament and mayor of the town who agreed to help him bring his idea to fruition.

On June 27th 2005, with the collection now donated, the town of Menton with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Communication announced its intention to build a public museum. The first stone was laid on December 29th 2008 at a ceremony from which Severin Wunderman was sadly absent, having passed away a few months earlier.

In September 2005, the Ministry of Culture and Communication approved the entry of the Severin Wunderman collection in the inventory of the Jean Cocteau Museum, a Musée de France since 2003.

A donation of 1,800 works
Severin Wunderman's donation comprises 1,800 works of which 990 are by Jean Cocteau.

It is highly representative of Cocteau's work, spanning every period from the first self-portraits of the 1910s to the "Mediterranean" period towards the end of his life, still largely unknown to the public.

The museum will show paintings, drawings, ceramics, tapestries, jewellery, photography, audio documents and film excerpts, in addition to 450 works by the great masters of modern art who were a part of Jean Cocteau's circle, including Picasso, Modigliani, De Chirico, Miró and Foujita, along with an exceptional body of 360 works relating to Sarah Bernhardt, for whom Cocteau coined the term monstre sacré.

Alongside masterpieces showing Cocteau's multi-facetted genius, the collection will give insight into the man behind the artist, through portraits and testimonials by his artist friends.

The Jean Cocteau Severin Wunderman Collection Museum
Retracing the life of Jean Cocteau

Cocteau's work in the visual arts and theatre is presented chronologically and thematically in seven sequences. They chronicle the milestones and encounters in his life and work.

Chamber theatre (1899-1911)
Transformation (1912-1919)
A contentious spirit (1920-1923)
Jean L'Oiseleur (the bird-catcher) (1924-1929)
The blood of a poet (1930-1937)
Mysteries (1937-1948)
Testaments (1949-1963)

Some 150 to 200 new works will be hung each year. They will testify to Cocteau's manifold genius and to the density of his oeuvre.

The architecture
Looking out to the Mediterranean and impinging as lightly as possible on its surroundings, the building which Rudy Ricciotti has designed over 2,700 sq. m. will house all the works in the Severin Wunderman donation.

Inspired by the many facets of Cocteau's genius – Cocteau himself described his work as "an object that's hard to pick up" – the museum's architecture is summed up in its facade: voluntarily multiple, fragmented, sometimes elusive.

In addition to the permanent collections, the museum will include galleries for temporary exhibitions of contemporary drawing, a bookshop and a café. It will be a new hub for life and the arts in Menton.

Architect and engineer, winner of the Grand Prix for Architecture, Rudy Ricciotti is representative of a generation of architects who combine creative force with constructive culture. Based in Bandol, he is in the frontline of today's battle in the minefield of neo-Provencal regionalism. His work includes such landmarks of French architecture as the National Choreography Centre in Aix-en-Provence. He has also won international acclaim with his Bridge of Peace in Seoul, the Potsdam Philharmonic Concert Hall, the Venice Festivals Palace and the future Contemporary Art Museum in Liege.

Menton, "Pearl of France"
Between France and Italy, mountains and the sea, Menton is the stuff of dreams.

Is it the gentle way of life matched by a profoundly Mediterranean spirit that has earned the town its sobriquet, "Pearl of France"?

Avidly disputed, in 2011 Menton celebrates the 150th anniversary of its annexation to France.

Art and history line its streets, from the baroque Saint-Michel-Archange Basilica to the Bastion Museum. Menton is also famed for its extraordinary parks and gardens.

The Jean Cocteau Severin Wunderman Collection Museum is a significant addition to the town's already rich cultural heritage.

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