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Alfred Jarry
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Birth Place: 
Laval, France
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Death Place: 
A French author most famous for his play Ubu Roi, as an artist Alfred Jarry created woodcuts and lithographs, mostly in connection with his literary works. He was educated at a provincial school in Rennes. He went to Paris at age 17 to study at the Lycée Henri IV to prepare for entry into the École Normale. Jarry did not pursue his studies, chosing instead to participate in literary Paris, writing articles for L’Art Littéraire in 1893. He published a book of poetry and prose illustrated by his own woodcuts in that year as well. He founded two journals that published prints and engravings, including engavings by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and a lithograph by Henri Rousseau (1875-1933); both journals quickly expired. The ideas for his play Ubi Roi began forming during his school days, inspired by a teacher. It was published in book form in 1896, engendering conflicting reviews. Described as a symbolist farce, the play was first performed in the Théâtre de l’Œuvre in Paris on December 10, 1896, with a playbill designed by Jarry, a backdrop painted by Jarry and his friends Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), Paul Sérusier (1864-1927) and Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and music composed by Pierre Bonnard’s (1867-1947) brother-in-law Claude Terrasse 1867-1923). The play’s opening scatological dialogue caused a near riot in the theater and became a cause célèbre. He wrote other plays, novels, essays and poetry, several of which he illustrated with his own woodcuts and other graphic works. He also provided drawings for musical compositions published by Terrasse. His literary work is seen as a precursor to the Theater of the Absurd, and attracted interest during the 20th century, leading to several performances of English translations of Ubu Roi in the United States. (TNB 5/2010) Selected bibliography: Boyer, Patricia Eckert. Artists and the Avant-Garde Theater in Paris 18878-1900, pp. 144-145. (Exhibition catalog.) Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998. Lennon, Nigey. Alfred Jarry: the man with the axe. Los Angeles: Panjandrum Books, 1984. Shattuck, Roger. The Banquet Years: the Arts in France, 1885-1918: Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire. London: Faber and Faber, 1958; rev. ed. 1968.