Poet, artist, and critic Max Jacob was born in Quimper, Brittany, France. In 1897, he moved to the Montmartre district of Paris, where he shared a room with Pablo Picasso and immersed himself in the bohemian arts community. Jacob supported his artistic endeavors by working at a number of odd jobs but never truly escaped poverty. Financial hardship eventually forced him to leave Paris.
In his work, Jacob moved between symbolism and surrealism, with occasional attempts at cubism. He was considered a somewhat marginal figure even during his lifetime, but the critic Sydney Levy offers an alternative interpretation of Jacob’s literary identity. “Rather than considering Max Jacob a failed cubist, a failed surrealist, a failed Jew, or a failure of any sort, I propose to view his marginality as a front, a narrow boundary that belongs to none of the systems it separates yet incorporates them all, something which contains signs of each system, which announces the new yet retains traces of the old.” Jacob’s most famous body of work, The Dice Box (1906), exemplifies his unique style of prose poetry.
Although born and raised Jewish, Jacob converted to Catholicism in 1909 after claiming to have had a vision of Christ. Moreover, he was hopeful that his conversion would offer a respite from his “involuntary” homosexual tendencies. In 1944, during the Nazi occupation of France, the Gestapo apprehended Jacob and eventually sent him to the Drancy internment camp. He died there of pneumonia at the age of 67.