In 1949, the poet Jean Cocteau met Francine Weisweiller who invited him a year later to spend a week’s holiday in her house in St Jean Cap Ferrat which overlooked the bay of Villefranche.
A few days after his arrival, Jean Cocteau would say: “I’m tired of idleness, I wither here…” He asked Francine whether he could draw the head of Apollo above the fireplace in the living room. Matisse had told him: “When you decorate a wall, you decorate the others”, so Cocteau kept on painting. Inch by inch, he covered all the walls of the house with frescoes inspired by the Greek mythology and the French Riviera.
All summer in 1950, Jean Cocteau worked on ladders without any preliminary model. After drawing in charcoal, the poet enhanced his drawings with coloured powders diluted in raw milk, otherwise known as frescoes in tempera. Cocteau would write: “I didn’t have to dress the walls; I had to paint on their skin […] Santo Sospir is a tattooed villa”.
Two years after completing the walls of the villa, Jean Cocteau tackled the ceilings. Finding them too white, he coloured them with pastels in very soft tones. He also composed mosaics for the entrance patio and a tapestry for the dining room. The art-covered walls even inspired a film, the 1952 La Villa Santo-Sospir, a filmed tour of the home given by Cocteau himself.
For many years, Jean Cocteau spend long periods in the villa and wrote about the place: “When I was working at Santo Sospir, I became myself a wall and these walls spoke for me”.