A pupil and then a teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, Benoît was suspended for a few months, in June 1945, due to a scandal precipitated by his defense of surrealism against some of his conservative colleagues. In October 1948 Benoît moved to Paris with his wife, Mimi Parent. While attending courses at the Musée de l'Homme. he produced sadistic drawings and designed a ceremonial costume to honor the Marquis de Sade, which he planned to wear at a ritual of his own devising. Benoît aspired to create an "art of the body," involving unprecedented performances that featured painting, sculpture and poetry. After visiting Benoît, André Breton invited him to participate in the E.R.O.S. International Exhibition of Surrealism, at Galerie Daniel Cordier, in Paris. At 10 PM on December 2, 1959, the night before the opening, Benoît appeared before a hundred or so guests at Joyce Mansour's spacious apartment, at 1 Avenue du Maréchal Manoury, wearing a mask that rose three feet above his head, a sandwich board studded with ova and spermatozoa, "anti-eurhythmic" shoes (which produced a piercing noise with the right foot and a muffled sound with the left, due to horns in the soles), and shuffled along on crutches, dragging a cart that symbolized a rolling tomb, all to the sound of an erupting volcano broadcast over a loudspeakers All this was followed by André Breton's voice reading Sade's last will and testament. A young blonde woman in a black dress—Mimi Parent—then undressed Benoît, removing each piece of his costume until he was nude: his penis sheathed in a large wooden phallus from which five flowers sprouted. From a brazier, he seized a white-hot iron with a phallic knob and pressed it to his left breast, where he had drawn a two-headed eagle in a star, searing his skin with the letters SADE. Then he vanished. For this performance piece, Execution of Sade's Will, his painting had a practical purpose—he designed every detail of his costume to make it extraordinary, studying the color so it would reach its utmost intensity in the light of the setting sun. Benoît's next work was his Necrophiliac's Costume (1962), inspired by Sergeant Bertrand, a notorious necrophiliac, who was convicted in 1848 of disinterring women's corpses in order to violate them. This costume featured a collarette made up of thirty-nine tombs engraved with the names of famous libertines (Messalina, Ninon de Lenclos, Pauline Borghese, etc.) and a cape with a cinderblock motif to resemble a cemetery wall. On the back of this outfit was a crest with the motto: "Death, life is stalking you." Girded with a chain from which hung gravedigger's tools, his face made up like a death's head with a bloodied mouth, Benoît presented this costume for the first time at the opening of the Eleventh International Exhibition of Surrealism, L'Écart Absolu, on December 7,1965, at the Galerie de L'CEil in Paris. Philippe Audouin described it thus: "Ecstatic, he weaved his way through the dense crowd, intermittently opening his mouth, its bright red interior accentuating the shocking fascination of the apparition." In addition to his public and private exhibitions, Benoit created painted images, sculptures and objects, and designed bookbindings. For the book Le Bouledogue de Maldoror (1966), he used women's leather gloves, adorning the spine with fragments of broken glass. The dog was endowed with a likeness of Benoît's own erect penis and the eyes of André Breton, which he drew after careful study. Benoît also fashioned a series of canes with knobs shaped like curved phalluses laden with erotic adornments, which he delighted in flaunting in public gardens to scandalize female passersby. His first exhibition—at the age of seventy-four, in October 1996, at Galerie1900-2000 in Paris—displayed works that even his closest friends knew nothing about. The primary work was a series of sixteen manuscript oils narrating his sexual escapades with his mistresses, illustrated with drawings affixed with tiny (feathers, dried flowers, labels). He constructed twelve cases to contain the scrolls—one so lavishly decorated it was called Mât de Cocagne—modeled after those Sade had his wife bring him while captive in the Bastille. Benoît composed many gouaches in the form of letters to women he admired (Élisa Breton, Annie Le Brun, Marie-Francoise Lély), creating lovely imagery out of amorous friendships. Benoit exemplifies the rare artist who did not make paintings and objects to sell—although he had his collectors but to enhance his everyday life.  

Jean Benoît

Born 1922 in Quebec, Canada.  

Le Bouledogue de Maldoror, 1965