Jean Jansem was born Ohannes Semerdjian in Seuleuze, near Bursa, Turkey, of Armenian parents – his father was a silk merchant. The Armenian genocide forced the family into exile, first in 1922 to Thessaloniki in Greece, then in 1931 to Issy-les-Moulineaux, a south-western suburb of Paris. Ohannes started to paint when he was nine and confined to bed for a year. Once settled in Paris, Ohannes, now calling himself Jean Jansem, studied art at the Academie Montparnasse and the École des Arts Decoratifs.

Early paintings by Jansem were mainly on Armenian national issues, but international fame came in the 1950s with muted figurative pictures that reflected the austere post-war mood. In the late 1960s he had individual exhibitions in Paris, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Rome, Brussels, Lausanne and Beirut. He was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1953 and the Légion d’Honneur in 2003. He was elected the President of the Young Artists’ Salon in 1956. In 2010 the President of Armenia awarded Jansem a Medal of Honour for his ‘reinforcement of Armenian–French cultural ties’. In 1973 he visited Armenia for the first time since leaving it as a baby, and in 2001 34 of his paintings were given to the Armenian Genocide Museum.

In the late 1960s Jansem’s wife Joelle opened Galerie Matignon in the rue St Honore near Paris’s Champs-Élysées, principally as an outlet for his prints. It was the first time an artist had been represented by his own gallery, which is now run by his daughter Joly.

We are very grateful to our Russian friend Yuri for suggesting the inclusion of this artist, and for supplying most of the images.

Example illustration