Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) was born Wilhelm Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky in Rome, the illegitimate son of an impoverished Polish woman and an Italian army officer. He spent his boyhood on the French Riviera with his mother and younger brother, Albert, attending schools in Monaco, Cannes, and Nice, until the family moved to Paris in 1899. Apollinaire did not pass the baccalauréat but began writing on his own, leaving Paris in 1901 to work as a private tutor for a family in the Rhineland for two years. Upon his return to Paris, he was employed as a bank clerk while writing plays and essays and becoming acquainted with Symbolist poets and playwrights, avant-garde musicians, choreographers, and visual artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Rousseau, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1910 Apollinaire published a collection of short stories, L’Hérésiarque et cie, that was nominated for the Goncourt Prize, and in 1913 he published his first significant collection of poetry, Alcools. At the onset of World War I, Apollinaire joined the French army, first serving as a member of the artillery division and then as part of the infantry fighting on the front lines where he suffered a head wound in March 1916. He returned to Paris and oversaw the production a year later of his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, a work in which the word “surréaliste” appears for the first time. A major influence on the artists and writers who would come to be known as surrealists, Apollinaire died of influenza two days before Armistice Day.