Max Jacob was a Jewish poet, painter, writer, and critic.
He was born in Quimper, Brittany, France. In 1897, he left the Paris Colonial School to pursue a career as an artist. Jacob shared a room with Pablo Picasso on the Boulevard Voltaire. Picasso introduced him to Guillaume Apollinaire, who in turn introduced him to Georges Braque. He would become close friends with Jean Cocteau, Christopher Wood and Amedeo Modigliani, who painted his portrait in 1916. He also befriended and encouraged the artist Romanin, otherwise known as French politician and future Resistance leader Jean Moulin.
Jacob, who had Jewish origins, claimed to have had a vision of Christ in 1909 and converted to Catholicism. Despite his hopes, his new religion could not rid him of his homosexual longings, about which he once said, "If heaven witnesses my regrets, heaven will pardon me for the pleasures which it knows are involuntary." Notorious for his heavy drinking, Jacob said he joined the artistic community in Montparnasse to “sin disgracefully.” In 1915, he arrived drunk at the funeral of Picasso's lover, Eva Gödel, and attempted to seduce the driver of the hearse.
Max Jacob is regarded as an important link between the symbolists and the surrealists, as can be seen in his prose poems Le cornet à dés (Dice Box, 1917) and in his paintings, exhibitions of which were held in New York City in 1930 and 1938.
His writings include the novel Saint Matorel (1911), the verses Le laboratoire central (1921), and Le défense de Tartuffe (1919), which expounds his philosophical and religious attitudes.
Eventually he would be forced to move to Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Loiret, where he hid during the German occupation during World War II. Jacob’s brother, sister and brother-in-law were deported to Auschwitz where they were killed by the Nazis. On February 24, 1944, Max Jacob was arrested by the Gestapo and put into Orléans prison. He was then transferred to a holding camp in Drancy for transport to a concentration camp in Germany. Max Jacob died in the Drancy deportation camp on March 5, 1944, suffering from bronchial pneumonia.