Painter Jansem Dies at 93

Desolation__Jansem

PARIS (A.W.)—Renowned French-Armenian painter Jansem passed away on Aug. 27 at the age of 93 in his residence in a suburb of Paris.  Born Jean Semerjian in 1920 in Selez near Bursa, Turkey, to a family of silk spinners, he moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, with his family during the Kemalist regime’s anti-minorities campaigns of the 1920’s.  After the death of his father in 1931, when Jansem was only 11, his mother decided to move the family to France, and settled in a suburb of Paris called Issy-Les-Moulineux.

Jansem started painting at a young age. His earlier work addressed Armenian themes. He sought professional schooling to develop his art early on, attending the free academies of Montparnasse (1934-36). After graduating high school in 1938, he worked at the Sabatie studio for a year, where he continued to focus on improving his skills.

Jansem’s primary sources of inspiration were Goya and Brueghel. Although his heroes varied, his mother and his children were the main subjects in his earlier works. His paintings also depicted scenes from the literary works of Cervantes, Francois Villon, Baudelaire, Albert Camus, and Federico Garcia Lorca. The heroes in his work emerged from journeys to Greece and Andalusia, where he observed different people in the streets, festivals, and churches.

Being a visionary artist, Jansem’s works embody a sincere self-exploration, filled with an immense love towards life and people.  He often depicted different states of desperation, opening a window into the world of deep philosophical sentiments and thoughts for his spectators. He was characterized as a miserablist, an artist of unfortunate people.

One of Jansem’s first exhibitions  was held at the Armenian Art Museum of Paris, where he presented various paintings with Armenian themes, such as “The Armenian Girl,” “An Armenian marriage,” and “The Jansem 6funeral.” After Paris, his paintings were displayed at various gallery and museum exhibitions in New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Rome, Moscow, Brussels, Lausanne, and Beirut, among others. Some of his paintings have found permanent homes in art museums, as well as in private collections. Two museums in Japan—Tokyo Ginza and Nagano Prefecture Azumino—were built to honor his works.

In 1973, Jansem visited Armenia for the first time. He returned to Yerevan in 2001, and offered 34 of his paintings to the Genocide Museum of Armenia—all of them dedicated to the Armenian Genocide.

In 1956, Jansem was elected president of the young artists’ saloon. In 1958, he won the Comparison Prize in Mexico. In 2010, on the occasion of his 90th anniversary, President Serge Sarkisian awarded Jansem with the Republic of Armenia’s Medal of Honor as a sign of gratitude for his contribution to French-Armenian cultural ties.

Straddling observation and creation, Jansem’s paintings express a world occupied by a deep truth, and reveal his sentiments towards the misfortune of his people. His works embody the grief of the Armenian Nation.

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Varak Ketsemanian

Varak Ketsemanian is a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2014-2016). His master’s thesis titled “Communities in Conflict: the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party 1890-1894” examines the socio-economic role of violence in shaping inter-communal and ethnic relations by doing a local history of the Armenian Revolutionary Movement in the Ottoman Empire. Ketsemanian’s work tackles problems such as the development and polarization of mainstream historiographies, inter-communal stratifications, nationalism, and the relationship of the Ottoman State with some of its Anatolian provinces. He is currently completing a PhD at Princeton University, where his doctoral dissertation will focus on the social history of the National Constitution of Ottoman Armenians in 1863, and the communal dynamics/mechanisms that it created on imperial, communal, and provincial levels. Ketsemanian’s research relates to the development of different forms of nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, revolutionary violence, and constitutional movements.

2 Comments

  1. What a profound loss to the visual art world and to all Armenians everywhere. Jansen may have been influenced by Picasso, but he very quickly far exceeded him. Every Armenian should go to our memorial in Yerevan for the privilege of standing in front of this man’s astonishing work. How fortunate we are to have it. I know of no other artist who draws with paint the way he did. His canvases hold the narrative of the Genocide between the brush strokes in a way that no one else has ever been able to do. I am deeply grieved at his passing.

    I plead with the book store at the memorial to have the catalogue of the work translated into English. What nonsense to have it only available in French. Visitors from around the world stand in front of those works, and English is the more common language. All the murals should be reproduced in a large format book with English text. The book store sales help to support the Tsitsernakaberd, and this would be additional revenue.

    My condolences to his family.

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