Creative Dialogues: Literature and the Visual Arts in France, 1900–1950

Submitting Institution

University of Kent

Unit of Assessment

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Anthropology
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The impact described in this case study is the significant enhancement of the public understanding and appreciation of the work of the French writer Guillaume Apollinaire, notably through greater awareness of the quality of the work resulting from his creative dialogues with Pablo Picasso and other visual artists. This impact has been achieved through Peter Read's collaborations with museum curators (especially at the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France), and through the dissemination of his archival research findings in major exhibition catalogues, illustrated books, magazine and newspaper articles, public lectures, and radio broadcasts. Read's research has also been cited in influential works by other critics, biographers, and historians. As a result, Read's research is now a key point of reference in the public discussion of Apollinaire, Picasso, and other Paris-based writers and artists of the early twentieth century.

Underpinning research

The underpinning research was carried out by Peter Read (Professor of Modern French Literature and Visual Arts, University of Kent, since 2006).

A major strand in Read's research has been the creative relationship between Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso. This research culminated in a monograph published by the University of California Press in 2008 (Read 2008a; paperback edition in 2010). In this book, Read built on earlier work on this topic and presented the first comprehensive picture of the creative interplay between Apollinaire and Picasso, and how this related to Apollinaire's posthumous presence in Picasso's later life and work. Read's research was significantly enriched by the access he was granted to previously unavailable archival material, which included: the complete correspondence received by Apollinaire, deposited at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) by the poet's estate; private journals, diaries, and other manuscripts newly acquired by the BNF at auction; new primary material held at the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet; Apollinaire's personal annotated library of books, periodicals, and catalogues, now held at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris (BHVP); and extensive uncatalogued collections of primary and secondary materials recently deposited at the BHVP by pioneering Apollinaire specialists Marcel Adéma and Michel Décaudin. Support from curators also enabled Read to access press-cuttings, correspondence, and manuscripts at the Musée Picasso and the Matisse estate in Paris. This research revealed further possible lines of archival enquiry into Apollinaire's hitherto completely unresearched drawings and paintings, and his very extensive unresearched correspondence with European, Scandinavian, and American artists. These topics were explored collaboratively by Read with French colleagues Claude Debon and Laurence Campa, resulting in two outputs: Les Dessins de Guillaume Apollinaire (Debon and Read 2008b) and the Gallimard volume Guillaume Apollinaire. Correspondance avec les artistes 1903-1918 (Campa and Read 2009a).

Les Dessins de Guillaume Apollinaire presents hundreds of the poet's previously unpublished drawings and paintings. In preparing this volume, Read and Debon worked together to revisit all the poet's manuscripts now held in public collections and museums in France, noting the presence of drawings, doodles, and paintings; they then extended the search to private collections, auction catalogues, and periodicals published since 1920. Further library and museum research enhanced the accompanying critical apparatus (introductions, commentaries, captions, and notes equally divided between the two specialists). Guillaume Apollinaire. Correspondance avec les artistes 1903-1918 presents the poet's previously unpublished correspondence with 117 artists. The main corpus of the correspondence received by Apollinaire is now at the BNF, where Read was granted access to original manuscripts (rather than microfilms) to facilitate the task of transcription. Other correspondence to and from Apollinaire was mainly located in public and private archives and libraries in France, Italy, and Norway. The letters and very extensive annotations give unrivalled access to all kinds of artistic activity — traditional, modern, and avant-garde — in France and across Europe before and during the Great War.

Read has also undertaken research into the relationship before and during the First World War between Apollinaire and the psychiatrist Dr Jean Vinchon. From around 1913, Vinchon pioneered art as therapy for his patients at Saint-Anne psychiatric hospital in Paris. Read researched Vinchon's role as psychiatrist and therapist, as an early collector of and writer on schizophrenic art, his relationship and correspondence with Apollinaire, the poet's previously undocumented visits to Saint-Anne, and the inclusion of psychoanalytic theory, vocabulary, and imagery in his writing, drawings, and paintings. In addition, Read researched Vinchon's contacts with early surrealism in the 1920s. He explored material in public collections, including correspondence received by Apollinaire from Vinchon, and he was also granted access by Vinchon's family to the doctor's papers and library, which include previously unpublished material by Apollinaire. The outcome was a substantial article published in the Revue des sciences humaines (Read 2012) which defines with new precision the sources and contours of Apollinaire's knowledge of psychoanalysis, shows how this knowledge shaped some of his major poems and other works, and became an essential part of his legacy to younger poets, including André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault.

References to the research

1. Read, Peter (2008a), Picasso and Apollinaire: The Persistence of Memory (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press), 318pp. ISBN: 978-0-520-24361-3. Reprinted in paperback in 2010. [This output can be supplied by the HEI on request.]

2. Debon, Claude, and Read, Peter, eds. (2008b), Les Dessins de Guillaume Apollinaire (Paris: Buchet Chastel / Les Cahiers dessinés), 160pp. ISBN: 978-2-283-02194-1. [This output is included in REF2: Read output 1.]

3. Campa, Laurence, and Read, Peter, eds. (2009a), Guillaume Apollinaire, Correspondance avec les artistes, 1903-1918 (Paris: Gallimard), 944pp. ISBN: 978-2-07-078404-2. [This output is included in REF2: Read output 2.]

4. Read, Peter, and Kelly, Julia, eds. (2009b), Giacometti: Critical Essays (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate), 240pp. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5446-9. [This output can be supplied by the HEI on request.]

5. Read, Peter (2012), `Apollinaire et le docteur Vinchon. Poésie, psychanalyse et les débuts du surréalisme', Revue des Sciences Humaines, 307, July-September 2012, pp. 35-59. ISSN: 0035-2195. [This output is included in REF2: Read output 4.]

6. Read Peter (2013), `Picasso fait Parade avec nous!', in Parade. Exposition Centre Pompidou-Metz (Metz: Éditions du Centre Pompidou-Metz), 64pp. ISBN: 978-2-35983-022- 4. [This output can be supplied by the HEI on request.]

Details of the impact

Read's research and publications have contributed to a major international reassessment of Apollinaire's art criticism. They have also enhanced the public understanding of his role in the development of literary and artistic modernism, and of how artists including Picasso, Giacometti, and Dufy responded creatively to literary stimulation. This impact has been achieved by Read's own publications, public lectures, and media appearances, and has also been mediated through reference to Read's research in the work of other researchers, writers, and commentators.

Impact activities:

  1. Exhibitions and exhibition catalogues. As a result of his research into the creative exchanges between writers and artists in France in the early decades of the twentieth century, Read was invited to contribute to exhibition catalogues and to act as an adviser for two exhibitions at the new Centre Pompidou-Metz, France. Read has contributed to various exhibition catalogues since 2008, including a series of essays for the encyclopaedic catalogue of the exhibition 1917, the second major exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou- Metz (2011). Read's contributions to the catalogue (on two theatre productions, the art market, the work of Picasso, and daily life in Paris in 1917), his earlier publications, meetings in Metz and Paris, and correspondence with curators helped to shape the organization and presentation of sections of the exhibition, particularly the importance given to collaborative projects realized by artists and writers, and to experimental home-front stage productions in 1917, all presented in ways designed to engage directly with a wide international audience. His on-going interdisciplinary research on cultural events during the First World War, and particularly on Picasso and Cocteau, led to his being commissioned to write the text for the illustrated book to accompany the follow-up exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, on the ballet Parade (17 November 2012 to 18 March 2013). Parade was produced in May 1917 by Diaghilev's Russian Ballet, and written, composed, designed, and choreographed by Cocteau, Satie, Picasso, and Massine. Read provides both specialists and a wide general readership with an illustrated presentation of the ballet, describing creative processes and defining the role of each artist involved and the interplay between them. Work on this book included meetings with the exhibition curators to discuss material to be included in the exhibition. In addition to his work for the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Read was also commissioned to write an essay for the catalogue of Picasso in Paris 1900-1907 (an exhibition held at the Van Gogh and Picasso Museums, Amsterdam and Barcelona, in 2011). This catalogue was published in separate editions in five languages (Catalan, Dutch, English, French, and Spanish). In addition to his contributions to exhibition catalogues, Read has also delivered a series of public lectures at La Halle St Pierre, Paris (November 2008), the Picasso Museum, Antibes (February 2010), the Montpellier Book-Fair (June 2012), and the Centre Pompidou-Metz (September 2012). Read's recent research on Picasso's first studios in Paris and his interest in Darwinism underpinned a series of illustrated public lectures on the intellectual and literary environment that fostered Picasso's early creativity, with venues including the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (March 2011). Read's research on literary connections in modern sculpture, and on Giacometti's reading, writing, and illustrating of literary texts (presented in Read and Kelly 2009b), led to a conference on European poetry and sculpture (organized by Read and Hutchinson) held at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (November 2009). This one-day event provided a forum not only for academics, but also for creative artists, curators, and members of the public to meet, discuss, and interact.
  2. Publications in the press. Read developed and synthesized his accumulated research on Picasso's life and work, and the context in which the artist operated, in a special `Picasso' issue of the popular French monthly magazine L'Histoire, for which Read was consultant and principal contributor (October 2008). He is also a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement (seven reviews and features on modern French literature and the visual arts since 2008).
  3. Radio programmes. Read has contributed to radio programmes on French and Swiss national radio: Radio France, France Culture, Les nouveaux chemins de la connaissance, a 50-minute live programme featuring Read speaking on eroticism in the writings of Apollinaire (broadcast on 22 June 2009); Radio Suisse Romande, Entre les lignes, a one- hour programme featuring Read speaking on Apollinaire, Correspondance avec les artistes and related topics (broadcast on 4 January 2010).

Reach of the impact:

  1. Over 200,000 tickets were bought for the exhibition 1917 at the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
  2. 71,800 copies were sold of the 2008 `Picasso' special issue of the French monthly L'Histoire, for which Read was the principal consultant and contributor. The Times Literary Supplement, to which Read is a regular contributor on modern French literature and art, has a readership of c. 100,000, of which half is in the USA.
  3. The French and Swiss national radio programmes to which Read contributed (Radio France, France Culture, Les nouveaux chemins de la connaissance; Radio Suisse Romande, Entre les lignes) have 100,000+ national audiences.

Significance of the impact:

Through his contributions to exhibition catalogues, his scholarly publications, the wealth of new documents he has made available (in French and often in English translation), his public lectures in both languages, his contributions to national radio broadcasts, and his regular journalism, Read has substantially shifted public perceptions of the interplay between art and literature in twentieth-century France. Countering received wisdom and earlier art-historical judgements (often based on poor translations and limited documentation), Read's research and publications have contributed to the international reassessment of Apollinaire's art criticism and his influential participation in the development of literary and artistic modernism. In particular, Read has made Apollinaire's hitherto unknown drawings available to a mainstream audience. More broadly, he has shown the public how artists respond creatively to their cultural environment and particularly to the literary company they keep, most notably in his publications on Picasso, Giacometti, and Dufy. Furthermore, Read has helped to inform exhibition curators at the Centre Pompidou-Metz regarding exhibition content, thereby ensuring that misconceptions have been avoided in the presentation of these exhibitions to the public.

Read's work has been highlighted and recommended to a wide general audience, notably by John Richardson in his bestselling Life of Picasso: `there is no better guide than Read's excellent study, Picasso et Apollinaire' (iii. 349); by Neil Cox in his Tate publication The Picasso Book: Read's book is `riveting'; and the 2009 Yale exhibition catalogue Picasso and the Allure of Language: Read's Picasso and Apollinaire is `a key publication'. Read's publications are also, for example, extensively cited throughout Laurence Campa's landmark biography of Apollinaire, published by Gallimard in 2013, with an English-language edition in preparation.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Quantitative indicators:

  1. Exhibition 1917 at the Centre Pompidou-Metz: over 200,000 tickets sold.
  2. `Picasso' special issue of the French monthly L'Histoire (2008), for which Read was the principal consultant and contributor: 71,800 copies sold.
  3. The catalogue for Picasso in Paris 1900-1907 (Van Gogh and Picasso Museums, Amsterdam and Barcelona, 2011), containing a chapter by Read (one of three contributing authors), has been published in Catalan, Dutch, English, French, and Spanish.

Citations in reviews outside academic literature:

  1. Articles on and reviews of Guillaume Apollinaire, Correspondance avec les artistes, 1903-1918 (Paris: Gallimard, 2009): Le Magazine littéraire, Nov. 2009; L'Express, 5 Nov. 2009; Livres Hebdo, 6 Nov. 2009; Vif/L'Express (Belgium), 13 Nov. 2009; La Quinzaine littéraire, 16-30 Nov. 2009; Libération, 19 Nov. 2009; Libération, 21 Nov. 2009; Florilettres, Nov. 2009; Libre Belgique, 30 Nov. 2009; Tout arrive, radio programme, France Culture, 7 Dec. 2009; Le Figaro littéraire, 10 Dec. 2009; Le Nouvel observateur, 10-16 Dec. 2009; Le Spectacle du monde, Dec. 2009; La Croix, 24 Dec. 2009; Le Blog de Morlino, 24 Dec. 2009; ARTabsolument, Jan.-Feb. 2010; La Matricule des anges, Jan. 2010; Entre les lignes, Radio suisse romande, 4 Jan. 2010; Revue des deux mondes, Jan. 2010; Concours magazine, Feb. 2010; Artpress, Feb. 2010; Les Lettres françaises, supplément de L'Humanité, Feb. 2010; Beaux Arts Magazine, Mar. 2010; Plumes, Mar.-May 2010; Europe, Apr. 2010; Le Journal des Arts, 16 Apr. 2010; Critique d'Art, Spring 2010; L'Histoire, May 2010; Charlie Hebdo, 23 Jun. 2010; Cahier critique de poésie, Oct. 2010; Times Literary Supplement, 11 Feb. 2011.
  2. Articles on and reviews of Les Dessins de Guillaume Apollinaire (Paris: Buchet Chastel / Les Cahiers dessinés, 2008): Reflets, 18 Oct. 2008; L'Alsace, 31 Oct. 2008; L'Est républicain, 2 Nov. 2008; La Repubblica (Italy) (Sunday supplement, two pages in colour), 9 Nov. 2008; Paris Match (full page in colour), 20 Nov. 2008; Le Matricule des Anges, Nov. 2008; Artpress (by Philippe Forest), Dec. 2008; La Croix, 4 Dec. 2008; Figaro Magazine, 6 Dec. 2008; La Dépêche du Midi, 7 Dec. 2008; Figaro littéraire (by Patrick Grainville), 11 Dec. 2008; Le Monde, 12 Dec. 2008; Lire, Dec. 2008; Magazine littéraire, December 2008; Atmosphères, Dec. 2008; Libre Belgique, 19 Dec. 2008; L'Opinion indépendante du Sud- Oeust, 19 Dec. 2008; Plumes, Dec. 2008-Feb. 2009; 24 heures (Switzerland), 6 Jan. 2009; Times Literary Supplement, 13 Feb. 2009.
  3. Comments on Read's impact in major works on Picasso and Apollinaire: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. 3: The Triumphant Years, 1917-32 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007); Neil Cox, The Picasso Book, Essential Artists series (London: Tate Publishing, 2010); Laurence Campa, Guillaume Apollinaire (Paris: Gallimard, 2013); Susan Fisher, Mary Caws, Jennifer Gross and Patricia Leighton, Picasso and the Allure of Language, Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).