In November two prints were purchased for the National Football Museum’s art collection. They date from the 1920s – this is slightly earlier than our focus to find post-war to present day artworks, but the importance of the artists and the quality of the prints meant these were too good to miss out on!
The first print is a line-cut or line engraving by French artist Jean Cocteau (1889–1963). Jean Cocteau was a man of many talents: he was an artist, poet, writer, playwright, filmmaker and designer; and known as the ‘Frivolous Prince’ (the title of an anthology he published in the 1920s). Cocteau had many famous friends in his avante-garde circle, including the singer Edith Piaf, fashion designer Coco Chanel, and the artist Pablo Picasso – who designed sets for Cocteau’s ballet productions (see an illustrated letter from Picasso to Cocteau in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection here).
The line-cut is called ‘Foot-ball Annonciations’, designed in 1923 and published for the ‘Dessins Suite‘ book in 1924. It shows two football players, who look as though they are jumping up to a ball which is somewhere off the page. ‘Dessins’ was published as a series of line-cuts of Cocteau’s early drawings, dedicated to his friend Picasso with the apology: “Poets do not draw. They untie the knots in handwriting and then retie them differently.” This rings true – you can just imagine the squiggles of handwriting being rearranged into the lines on this print. My favourite part of this is the delicate laces on the football boots, and the nostrils!
In his book The Difficulty of Being (La Difficulte d’Etre, 1947) Cocteau wrote: “[…] the only sport I like […] is conversation”, however various works by Cocteau did depict sport. Mike O’Mahony (University of Bristol), the Academic partner for the Art of Football Project, said “Cocteau had a complex relationship with sport (not a conventional lover) but admired the popular culture elements of it and certainly wrote about it at times – including poems”. Perhaps this is why in this piece, the football itself is missing but the players and their emotion and interaction are what remain.
This photograph, found on the website ‘Jean Cocteau Unique et Multiple‘ shows Jean on the football pitch at Milly-la-Forêt F.C. The caption states “Cocteau président du club de football de Milly (vers 1950)” which suggests Cocteau was the president of the football club, around 1950. Cocteau lived in Milly-la-Forêt from 1947 until his death, so the timing of this would seem correct. I have tried contacting both the authors of the website above and Milly F.C. to ask about Cocteau being the president of the club, and how they discovered this – but haven’t had a reply yet. If anyone knows more information about this, please do get in touch with me!
If you would like to find out more about Jean Cocteau, there is an episode of the BBC Radio 4 biographical programme Great Lives which discusses him, currently available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer Radio here (last accessed 19th February 2018).
The second print purchased is a woodcut proof, entitled ‘Pony the Footballer’ by Paul Nash. Paul Nash was a British artist, and like Cocteau had many skills – including photography, surrealist paintings, and book illustrations. Most significantly Nash was an official War Artist for both the First and Second World Wars (his brother John was also an official War Artist – you can see a post on them both by the Imperial War Museum here).
Pony the Footballer is just one of five illustrations done by Nash for the chapter headings in the book ‘Cotswold Characters‘ by John Drinkwater (1921). A review of the book (and specifically Pony the Footballer) in The Spectator on 23rd September 1922 states: “The story of Pony, the footballer, is, in fact, merely a skilfully retold version of the tale one may find in almost any number of almost any boy’s paper. We can imagine, however, that the book will attract many readers, for it is pleasant and meditative, and Mr. Paul Nash’s fantastic woodcuts supply an element of agreeable astringency.”
The museum currently has another Nash artwork on loan, which is a chromolithograph of the Shell Advertising poster dating from 1935. This was one of several artworks by top artists commissioned by the oil company for their early advertising campaigns. The angles and lines of the goalpost are quite similar to that of woodcut. We also have a proof of the poster which is in our permanent collection.
Later on in November, these two prints were just a few of the collection items seen by year 6 pupils from The Friars Primary School, who came to the National Football Museum for Takeover Day (Kids in Museums). They used some brilliant describing words and measuring skills words to document the prints. I think my love of documentation rubbed off on them, because some of the pupils even wanted to take home copies of my blank database record sheet so they could document things at home!
Thanks to Goldmark Gallery for alerting me to the Cocteau line-cut after I contacted them initially about the Nash woodcut, and again a huge cheer for the Heritage Lottery Fund for awarding the National Football Museum with funding to allow us to purchase these artworks for the collection. I will be back soon for another exciting update.