Guillaume Apollinaire Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Apollinaire left an enduring mark on the poetry and painting of the twentieth century. He was a spokesman for the symbolists and an exponent of Surrealism; in fact, the word “Surrealist” appeared for the first time in his writing. His poem “La Jolie Rousse” (the pretty redhead) became and has remained the charter of free verse.

Early Life

The man known since his twentieth year as Guillaume Apollinaire was the illegitimate son of Angélique Alexandrine de Kostrowitzky, a member of the Polish nobility whose family had taken refuge at the papal court. She first registered her son under a false name but a month later had him baptized as Guillaume Albert Wladimir Alexandre Apollinaire de Kostrowitzky. The mystery of his father’s identity lasted for seventy years; he has since been identified as Francesco Flugi d’Aspermont of a family originally from Switzerland. Wilhelm, or Kostro as he was called at different times, had a younger brother, Albert, before his mother’s liaison ended a few years later. For a time, the father’s brother, a member of the Benedictine Order, helped with the expenses of the boys’ education. They were sent to Catholic schools in Monaco, Cannes, and Nice, where they were exceedingly devout and diligent.

In 1897 and 1898, Wilhelm became fascinated by ancient history, by magic, and by erotic literature. By that time he was apparently a militant atheist, treating religion satirically and grossly, although at times nostalgically, and steeping himself exuberantly in exoticism and obscene writings. The knowledge thus gained served as material for his poetry and stories.

By 1900, Wilhelm was living with his mother in Paris and making a precarious living in minor secretarial jobs. The following year, he went, as a tutor to the young daughter of the Viscountess of Milhau, to Germany, where he fell hopelessly in love with Annie Playden, a blonde, English governess who shared his duties. Her parents refused to allow her to marry Wilhelm, but this attachment, along with some extensive traveling in Europe, resulted in a series of stories collected in L’Hérésiarque et Cie (1910; The Heresiarch and Co., 1965). It contained the first tale, written in 1902, that he had signed with the name Guillaume Apollinaire. His love for Annie Playden also inspired his most famous poem, “La Chanson du mal-aimé” (“The Song of the Poorly Loved”). All of his life, his love affairs were to provide inspiration for his best poetry.

Life’s Work

By 1903, Apollinaire had become friends with André Salmon and Alfred Jarry. The three men founded a small review, Le Festin d’ésope, which lasted for nine issues. About the same time, Apollinaire met Max Jacob and Pablo Picasso, who was to be his friend for many years. The result was a significant artistic and literary collaboration. Now too Apollinaire made the acquaintance of Maurice de Vlaminck and André Derain, with whom he drank, played cards, and visited hashish dens and brothels. He became increasingly well known in Paris cafés as a friendly and ebullient talker. The usual subjects of conversation were aesthetics and painting, and everyone was feverishly preoccupied with innovation. In 1905, Apollinaire’s first writing on art appeared: two articles on Picasso.

In 1909, after a long delay, Mercure de France published the fifty-nine stanzas of “La Chanson du mal-aimé.” Apollinaire’s place in the literary world was now secure. From 1911 on, he wrote a regular column for Mercure de France, usually championing new painters. In addition, he had been since 1910 the regular art critic for L’Intransigeant. In his articles, he sought to establish his authority by discovering, explaining, and promoting the newest movements in literature and painting: He campaigned for the Fauves, the Unanimists, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Georges Braque, and Alfred Jarry. He became the principal spokesman for cubism.

In 1911, Apollinaire had the harrowing experience of being imprisoned for five days on the strength of a false accusation that he had received and hidden objects stolen from the Louvre. He was desolated. Despite his acquittal, newspapers continued to attack him; his position as leader of the avant-garde was threatened as was his legal right to stay in France. Added to these worries was his lack of funds. His spirits revived with the invitation to become associate editor of a new review, Soirées de Paris. His first article advised the abandonment of “likeness” and of subject matter in painting. He could not be cowed.


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Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Guillaume Albert Wladimir Alexandre Apollinaire de Kostrowitzky was born in Rome on August 26, 1880. Mystery surrounded his birth until the publication of Marcel Adema’s definitive biography in 1954. Apollinaire’s birth was first reported officially in Rome on August 31, 1880, as a male child of a mother who wished to remain anonymous and whose father was unknown. His name was given as Guillaume-Albert Dulcigni. On September 29, he was baptized as Guillelmus Apollinaris Albertus de Kostrowitzky, son of Angelica de Kostrowitzky, but the father was still not mentioned. In November, Angelica officially recognized her son, although the identity of the father was not publicly revealed until Adema established that Francesco Flugi d’Aspermont, member of a very patrician, influential Italian family, was indeed the father of Guillaume Apollinaire.

Flugi d’Aspermont was, at age forty, twenty-three years older than the unconventional Polish teenager, Angelica de Kostrowitzky. Shortly after they met, she became his mistress, eventually giving birth to two sons—Guillaume and Albert. Apollinaire knew who his father was, but he nevertheless took great delight in relating fictional, romantic stories about his parentage. To some, he declared that he was descended from Polish and Russian royalty, while to others, he represented himself as the son of a high clergyman of the Catholic Church. There was perhaps a grain of truth here: His father’s family had served King Ferdinand II of Sicily and his uncle was a member of the Vatican hierarchy. Apollinaire, in creating these legends about himself, felt there was something enriching about a poet’s life being as mysterious as his works often were.

After Flugi d’Aspermont abandoned Kostrowitzky and their sons, she went to Monaco and thereafter spent most of her life in France. Apollinaire, who started school in Monaco in 1887, was an excellent student, winning prizes in most subjects. He spent two years in colleges in Cannes and Nice (1897-1898), but apparently a lack of funds kept him from attending a university. He was already seriously thinking of becoming a writer, however, and prepared himself by reading widely and taking an interest in politics. With a friend, he started a newspaper in which he published his own poetry under the pseudonym of Guillaume Macabre. This early effort led to his lifelong interest and involvement in journalism.

In 1899, Apollinaire went to Paris with his brother, his mother, and her young lover, Jules Weil. Soon, financial difficulties drove Weil and the two boys to Stavelot, a small town in Belgium, while Kostrowitzky went to Spa to try her luck in the casino there. At Stavelot, Apollinaire wrote most of L’Enchanteur...

(The entire section is 1118 words.)

Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Other Literary Forms

Besides poetry, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote a number of prose works. Among the most significant of his short stories and novellas are L’Enchanteur pourrissant (1909; the putrescent enchanter), published by Henry Kahnweiler and illustrated with woodcuts by André Derain; L’Hérésiarque et Cie. (1910; The Heresiarch and Co., 1965), a contender for the Prix Goncourt; and Le Poète assassiné (1916; The Poet Assassinated, 1923). They are contained in the Pléiade edition, Œuvres en prose (1977), edited by Michel Décaudin.

Apollinaire collaborated on numerous plays and cinema scripts. His best-known individual works in...

(The entire section is 4890 words.)

Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Guillaume Albert Wladimir Alexandre Apollinaire (uh-pah-luh-NEHR) de Kostrowitzky was born August 26, 1880, in Rome, the firstborn, illegitimate child of an aristocratic Polish adventuress and an Italian army officer. Apollinaire would later profess total ignorance of his paternity, in part because it suited his artistic purposes to do so. Born Angelica Kostrowicka in 1858, the boy’s mother adopted the French spelling, Kostrowitzky, when recording his birth. She addressed him as Wilhelm, nevertheless. A second son, Albert, who presumably shared the same father, was born in 1882.

Inclined toward exotic tastes and (possibly compulsive) gambling, Angelica no doubt seemed less than an ideal match for the boys’...

(The entire section is 1564 words.)

Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Often categorized as the first twentieth century French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire welcomed the new century with his arresting imagery and experimental verse forms, finding in the cubist and other modernist painters the visual counterpart to his own innovations. Ironically, the work of the painters Apollinaire promoted appears to have outlasted his own, which now appears less visionary than his contemporaries might have supposed. Alcools, nevertheless, contains a number of memorable, striking verses, frequently read and admired by later generations of poets.

(The entire section is 81 words.)

Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The mother of Guillaume Albert Wladimir Alexandre Apollinaire (ah-pahl-ee-nehr) de Kostrowitzky, a Polish adventuress, may have been of aristocratic birth; his father has never been positively identified but is said to have been a high church dignitary, perhaps an Italian bishop. Guillaume, their illegitimate son, was born in Rome and baptized in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore; his mother had him christened Wilhelm Apollinaris and gave him her own Polish surname, Kostrowitzky.{$S[A]Kostrowitzky, Guillaume Apollinaris de;Apollinaire, Guillaume}

His formative years were largely spent in Monte Carlo and other fashionable resorts between which he and his mother traveled. He was educated in Nice and Cannes; later he...

(The entire section is 663 words.)

Guillaume Apollinaire Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Guillaume Apollinaire is considered one of the most important literary figures of the early twentieth century. His use of direct language and...

(The entire section is 541 words.)