Guillaume Apollinaire was born in Rome, Italy in August of 1880. He was the son of a Polish mother and Italian father and his full name stretched to, Wilhelm Albert Vladimir Alexander Apollinaire de Kostrowitzsky. While details about his youth are unclear, it is likely that his father was a of aristocratic birth and spent very little, to no time, with his infant son. It has also been speculated that Apollinaire’s father was a military officer or a high ranking member of the Church. His mother, Angelika Kostrowicka, was a Polish noblewoman.
Apollinaire’s youth was spent traveling throughout Europe where he was able to meet a number of interesting personalities and develop an interest in various fields of study. One of his earliest poems that he wrote during this period, “Song of the Poorly Loved,” would become famous years later.
Paris and Cubism
He eventually settled in Paris where he supported artists such as Braque, Rousseau, and Picasso. He was widely known throughout artistic circles so much so that also he collaborated with the likes of Marc Chagall, Andre Derain, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein. In 1907, he published the erotic novel the Eleven Thousand Rods, or Les Onze Mille Verges. The novel was banned in France until 1970 and was only one of a number of pornographic volumes attributed to Apollinaire.
He was intimately connected to an antagonistic culture that artistically revolted against bourgeois society and showed an interest in anarchism. In 1911 he became a member of the Puteaux Group of Cubists, and he was able to give the opening address the Salon of 1912. At one point in his career he was wrongly arrested, and imprisoned for a short time, for the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa.
Later Life and Military Service
Apollinaire’s collection, Âlcools, published in 1913 solidified his reputation and showed the great influence of Symbolism on his work. The same year he published an essay, Les Peintres Cubistes, Méditations Esthétiques about the Cubist painters.
Three years later he joined the military and fought for France during World War I. After only a short period of time, while fighting at the front with the infantry, he suffered a head wound. Apollinaire was sent back to Paris soon after. In his last year of life he lectured on modern art, and staged the play, Les Mamelles de Tiresias: Drame Surrealist (The Breasts of Tiresias).
Apollinaire died in 1918 from Spanish influenza, only a few months after his marriage to Jacqueline Kolb. You can read Guillaume Apollinaire’s poems here.