Greatest Art Critics Series
Guillaume Apollinaire

Biography of French Art Critic: Invented the term Surrealism.

Art Critic Guillaume Apollinaire.
Wilhelm Albert Apolinary Kostrowicki.

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)


Career as an Art Critic
Final Period


Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97)
Herbert Read (1893-1968)
John Canaday (1907-85)
Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978)
Clement Greenberg (1909-94)
Leo Steinberg (1920-2011)


Along with contemporaries such as Louis Leroy (1812-1885), Felix Feneon (1861-1944), Louis Vauxcelles (1870-1943), and Roger Fry (1866-1934), Guillaume Apollinaire was one of the most influential art critics in Paris in the decade leading up the the First World War. More of a weather-vane than a literary artist, Apollinaire's antennae picked up every nuance of the Parisian world of modern art - the self-styled Ecole de Paris - as he fraternized with many of the greatest twentieth century painters then resident in the French capital. A major presence in the bohemian avant-garde art world of pre-war Paris, his main contribution to French Painting was his skill as a propagandist for the artists and movements he admired. They included Picasso (1881-1973) and his revolutionary style of Cubism; the dream-like paintings of Marc Chagall (1887-1985); the spooky metaphysical painting of Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978); the Fauvism of Matisse (1869-1954) and Andre Derain (1880-1954), and the outsider art of the naive painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). He is also credited with inventing the term Orphism (in 1912), and Surrealism (in 1917), whose leader Andre Breton (1896-1966) dedicated the first Surrealist Manifesto (1924) to his memory. He was also an important influence on Dada in Paris. Among his close friends were Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Max Jacob, Erik Satie, Gertrude Stein, and Ossip Zadkine. The many artists who painted his portrait included: Jean Metzinger, Modigliani, Mikhail Larionov, Henri Rousseau and Picasso.



Career as an Art Critic

Born Wilhelm Albert Apolinary Kostrowicki, in Italy, the illegitimate son of Olga Kostrowicki, a Polish noblewoman, he received his education in Monte Carlo before moving to Paris in about 1900. Here, he adopted the name Guillaume Apollinaire and earned his living as a journalist (for Le Matin, Intransigeant, and Paris Journal) and art critic, becoming (from 1905) the artistic mouthpiece for Picasso, during his Rose period (1905-7) and African-influenced Period (epoque negre) (1907), as well as his later Cubist period.

Apollinaire's book Meditations Esthetiques: Les Peintres Cubistes (1913) was - along with Du Cubisme (1912) by Metzinger and Gleizes - the first important source of information on Analytical Cubism (c.1909-12) and its successor Synthetic Cubism (c.1912-14). Interestingly, despite his admiration for Picasso and Braque, Apollinaire accords equal attention to Metzinger, Gleizes, Delaunay, Picabia, Gris and Duchamp.

Note: For other influential figures around the Cubist group, see the dealers: Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959).

It was in this book that he used the term Orphism, to describe the colourful Cubist-style paintings of Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), although reportedly he first coined the term in 1912, during a lecture at the Section d'Or exhibition in the Galerie La Boetie. The leading members of Section d'Or, all of whom were active Cubists, included: Albert Gleizes 1881-1953), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Andre Lhote (1885-1962), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925), and Frank Kupka (1871-1957).

Final Period

In September 1911, Apollinaire was arrested by the police on suspicion of helping to steal the the Mona Lisa and several Egyptian statuettes from the Louvre, but was released within the week. (The theft was committed by one of his Russian friends.) In 1914, he enlisted in the French army and, in 1916, was severely wounded in the head. While convalesing he invented the word "surrealism" which first appeared in the program notes for Jean Cocteau's and Erik Satie's ballet Parade (May 1917). Failing to fully recover from his wound, he died of influenza during the pandemic of 1918. He is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris.

In 1960, a collection of his art and literary reviews was published under the title Guillaume Apollinaire: Chroniques d'Art (1902-18). An English translation - Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews - followed in 1972.

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