The slim oeuvre and outsized myth of French writer and illustrator Jacques Vaché are readily accessible to the Francophone yet little known in the Anglosphere, even among adherents of Surrealism. He was such an early adherent of the movement that he was dead before it was underway; Vaché’s friend André Breton posthumously installed him as a kind of Surrealist John the Baptist (no prize for guessing who Christ is in this scenario). Or – if you will – Che to his Fidel.
Vaché was mobilised early on in the First World War, at 18, and his modest measure of post-life fame rests largely on works he undertook while recovering from a war injury. His writings and drawings from this period dwell in the anti-tradition of savage, nihilistic humour pioneered by Alfred Jarry just a decade or two earlier. The pessimism was more than just a pose. “I will die when I want to die…” wrote Vaché. Years later, Breton reported on uncertain evidence that he had suffixed these words with a clarification: “But then I’ll die with someone else. Dying alone is so boring…”
One hundred years ago today, Jacques Vaché died of an opium overdose in a Nantes hotel room with his friend Paul Bonnet. Vaché was just twenty-three years old.