A poet and critic who chronicled and consorted with the most adventurous artists of his time, Guillaume Apollinaire was himself not entirely of that tumultuous age: his own writings told of things ancient, enduring, and eternal. His enthusiasm for the work of his contemporaries has about it a bemused quality, even though it strongly influenced the aesthetics of the early twentieth century. His visionary poetry attracted the interest of prominent musicians ranging from Poulenc to Shostakovich. His premature death came shortly after service in the trenches during WWI.
The son of Polish adventuress Angelica de Kostrowitzky, Apollinaire did not know his father, likely the Swiss-Italian aristocrat Francesco Flugi d'Aspermont. He was reared by his mother in various places between, and including, Rome and Paris. In his youth, he assumed the name with which he gained celebrity. He received a French education at Monaco's Collège Saint-Charles and, later, in Nice and Cannes.
At age 20, Apollinaire took up residence in Paris, working briefly at a bank. He contributed to several publications and, in 1903, established one of his own, Le festin d'Esope. He became friends with playwright Alfred Jarry, Pablo Picasso, and painter Marie Laurencin, soon his lover. In 1901-1902, he journeyed to Germany where he became a tutor. When he returned to France, he began to acquire a reputation as an advocate for contemporary painting. He introduced Picasso and Braque and, in 1911, assisted in the creation of a cubist exhibition room at the Salon des Indépendents in Paris.
Apollinaire's art reviews afforded him prominence, as did the publication of sexually explicit works and biting satires. His text "The Cubist Painters" discussed in detail the principal cubists and the forces that were shaping them. Less than two weeks after the book's publication, Apollinaire abandoned cubism for Orphism, whose leading representative was Fernand Léger.
To counter his reputation as a foreign malefactor and art thief (for allegedly stealing the Mona Lisa), Apollinaire acquired French citizenship and joined the infantry. His experiences at the WWI front resulted in a head wound and his "Calligrames," poetic ruminations on the terror -- and strange beauty -- of war. Not long after his marriage to Jacqueline Kolb in 1918, Apollinaire succumbed to influenza and residual war injuries.