In 1957 in the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, avant-garde poet, artist, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) took over a small chapel that had been used to store fishing equipment, transforming it into his own wild vision.
Cocteau became enchanted with the rundown chapel while staying at the nearby Hotel Welcome in the 1920s. Back then, he would hardly have been called a religious man. In her book, “Artists and Their Museums on the Riviera,’’ author Barbara Freed points out that the hotel was the scene of, as Cocteau’s friend Ned Rorem put it, “outrageous public behavior.’’ And that’s probably putting it mildly.
When Cocteau returned to Villefranche in 1950 and he began his excursions into painting murals and sketches. As with his film and writings, he drew heavily on Greek mythology, and he made the chapel his canvas.
It took the artist more than seven years to cut through French red tape to renovate the chapel. Once he had the keys, some fishermen stole his ladders to prevent the project from happening – they wanted to keep it for storing nets. Cocteau compromised by donating the entrance fees to a local fishermen’s fund.