After all, the gallery’s director had often boasted to the press that there was more chance of the Notre Dame being stolen.
Added to this was the fact that Da Vinci’s painting was the most famous on the planet, making it both a priceless artifact and an unsellable liability for any thief.
For a decade, the area flourished as an artistic citadel to a degree arguably never seen before or since, the list of artists and writers who lived there (Matisse, Braque, Modigliani, Utrillo, Alfred Jarry, Raymond Radiguet etc) an embarrassment of riches.
In the midst of this daunting collection of genius and narcissism, Apollinaire became indispensable.
We think of Picasso as figure of the group and time, chiefly because time, money and his obvious incredible skill and vision have been kind to the Spaniard, but at the time Apollinaire assumed the effective role of leader.
He actively changed the perception, content and direction of some of the greatest art of this, or any, age and made Picasso for one, in the way we think of him, possible.Such were the more trangressive elements of the books (homosexuality, orgies, incest, BSDM), the books’ author was listed only as the engimatic ‘G. They sold well under the counter, being denied full legal publication in France until the 1970’s.Whilst writing of bodice-ripping, vampiric necrophiles and tumescent members, the young Apollinaire fell in with an emerging crowd of largely-foreign artists (for all the decadent delights and intellectual hothouses of the metropolis, most of standout cultural figures then, as often now, were so-called ‘provincials’), who congregated around the then little-known Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and who were based in Le Bateau-Lavoir section of Montmartre (the area was so named as the dank garrets and bohemian squats were so run-down they creaked in the wind like ships in a storm).Picasso didn’t merely paint, in the words of his propagandist Apollinaire, he “interrogated the universe.” Apollinaire exhorted Matisse, at a time when his work was being condemned as “a pot of paint flung in the public’s face” – “People look at you and see a monster when there is, in fact, a miracle” and aided the artist’s eventual acceptance and then canonisation by writing, “We are not here in the presence of an extravagant or an extremist undertaking: Matisse’s art is eminently reasonable.” He discovered Henri Rousseau, then a customs official and a weekend amateur artist, and jointly threw the famous banquet in his honour with Picasso (such was his regard for that Apollinaire wrote the moving epitaph for the painter which Brancusi sculpted onto his tomb, “We salute you Gentle Rousseau if you can hear us…Let our luggage pass duty-free through the gates of heaven / We will bring you brushes, paints and canvas”).There he dabbled in anarchism, became a Dreyfusard in the great anti-semitic schism that ran through French society and was drawn to writing initially under his school nickname ‘Kostro’ and then the Gothic guise ‘Guillaume Macabre’ (a tip of the hat to predecessors such as Poe and Lautréamont ).Significantly, he funded his early literary endeavours, setting up his own brief periodicals (‘The Immoralist Review’), by ghost-writing erotic novels (there’s an entire alternate history of literature and high art in Paris being funded by smut – take Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press which funded the work of Troochi, Miller, Beckett and Burroughs, a story for another time).His first books of verse were illustrated with woodcuts by the Fauvists Andre Derain and Raoul Dufy.He acted as a mentor to Blaise Cendrars and Marcel Duchamp, who’s pioneering of conceptual art was born in his conversations with Guillaume.Apollinaire persuaded Boccioni to sculpt in bronze and was among the first to publicise and celebrate the work, and verve, of Marinetti and his Futurists.He arranged the first ever solo exhibition of the magical Russian folk-painter Marc Chagall.