Portrait Théo TOBIASSE Biographie


1927  2012

Photo famille Théo TOBIASSE Biographie

1960  1969

out as a painter

Théo TOBIASSE pose devant ses toiles Théo TOBIASSE en photo devant la galerie Paul PETRIDES Tableau de Théo TOBIASSE le train du 16 juillet

His first paintings were exhibited at the Painters’ fair in South West France in 1960. In 1961 he won the prize for the “young Mediterranean painter” and the famous art dealer Armand Drouant exhibited his works at the Faubourg Saint-Honoré Gallery in Paris in 1962.

Théo Tobiasse also won the Dorothy Gould Prize in 1961. He then decided to devote himself solely to the fine arts. Many exhibitions consecrated to his works have been held all over the world, at the Drouant gallery in Paris, in Geneva, in Montreal, Tokyo, and later in London, Zurich, Lausanne, Los Angeles and Kiev. His first one-man show in New York was in 1968.

Self-taught, during his travels he studied the techniques of the great masters hung in museums. The reliefs, glazing and colours of Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, in particular, opened up for him new technical possibilities, which he explored in his paintings once back in his studio.

The figurative subjects with neither narrative nor symbolism like cats, birds, kites and velocipedes in his early paintings enabled him to experiment with the techniques, colours and textures of oil paint and gouache. Le Vélocipède (1959), Le Chat de Vence (1961), L’Oiseau rouge (1964), La Nuit de l’oiseau (1960).

From 1964, Théo Tobiasse developed a more personal iconography drawn from his own memories of his childhood in Lithuania, from the wanderings of a family seeking a land of asylum and from the Shoah.

Trains, the one that brought his family from Kaunus to Paris, or those that took Jews to the camps, became a recurrent motif, and the Memory became a major theme in his work C’était en 42, le train du 16 juillet, oil on canvas, (1965).

Tableau de Théo TOBIASSE le train du 16 juillet

1970  1983



A visit to Jerusalem in 1970 brought him closer to his ancestral origins.

He created his first stained glass windows on the theme of “Jewish Festivals” for the Jewish Community Centre in Nice, and a monumental oil on canvas entitled Que tes tentes sont belles, ô Jacob (1982). He continued to travel and to absorb the cultures with which he came into contact: New Orleans jazz, the Mexican archeological sites and the American Indian totem poles.

In New York he met Elie Wiesel (1982). Whilst Josy Eisenberg was making a film about Théo Tobiasse, called Dis-moi qui tu peins, for French television in 1977, numerous one-man shows were dedicated to him in France and abroad, particularly in the Passali gallery in Paris, the Musée de l’Athénée in Geneva and the Nahan Gallery in New Orleans. In 1983 a retrospective exhibition of his work was organized in Nice in the Ponchettes Contemporary Art Gallery.

Carborundum engraving, lithography, stained glass windows, ceramics, and sculpture were all means of expressions that he explored, first in the studio he created in his home in the hills above Nice, (1954-1972), then at quai Rauba Capeu in Nice (1971-1976). He left Nice to establish his main studio at his property in Saint-Paul de Vence in 1976.

In collaboration with Pierre Chave, a lithographer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Théo Tobiasse elaborated a technique to make lithographs with eighteen to twenty colours, which he made for numerous first editions published in France, Sweden and the United States: Songs of Songs (1975), Paris, Fleur de Bitume, Hommage à H.C. and Andersen.

Andersen (1980), Parfum d’Odalisque (1982). He was also initiated into carborundum engraving, an engraving technique devised by Henri Goetz for Let My People Go (1981).

Théo TOBIASSE en photo avec Elie WIESEL Théo TOBIASSE en photo à un balcon Théo TOBIASSE en photo dans un atelier

Spanning his work, three other major themes join the themes of the memory
of the wandering and the exodus of his family
and the Jewish people, in Tobiasse’s personal iconography:

La-folle-de-Bowery-1985-encre-et-collage-sur-papier 13x15cm.jpg

Cities that meant a lot to him

Firstly Paris and Jerusalem, then from the 1980s New York and Venice, twenty-eight monochrome gouaches, De Notre-Dame à Saint-Germain-des-Près (1969).

Toile de Théo TOBIASSE Shéhérazade

The Bible

An inexhaustible source of human dramas, that he reimagined in the present, and peopled with fantasy Biblical mothers and other characters, Rachel (1978), Sarah et les trois messagers (1981), J’ai vu fleurir Bethsabée au jardin des grenades (1982).

Femme couchée dans un jardin public toile Théo TOBIASSE

Woman as a paramour

Erotic and immodest, Daphnis et Chloé (1978), Portrait de femme immobile dans l’extase (1978), and Pomme de sexe créature dont la peau brûle et les bras se tordent (1980).

Photo Théo TOBIASSE torse nu allumant une cigarette

You lead me to discover the shadows of flesh inside you (1977) or Forbidden spells: I can only adore in the dizziness of an incantation (1979)

1984  1994


Toile de Théo TOBIASSE To America Photo Théo TOBIASSE en Amerique Photo de Théo TOBIASSE avec 3 hommes Photo Théo TOBIASSE écrivant sur son carnet

The American art dealer, Kenneth Nahan Sr., whom he met in 1978, encouraged Théo Tobiasse to join in the United States the other French painters he was representing, in particular Max Papart and James Coignard. Tobiasse settled in New York in 1984. Initially he worked at the Chelsea Hotel, before creating his studio in Manhattan. He then decided to divide his time and his work between Saint-Paul de Vence and New York.

The first pictures he painted in America are clearly different from his European production due to their scale and their luminous themes. The oil-painted canvasses are full of family portraits, children, and Biblical characters, Ma famille venait de Lituanie, Little Girl Sitting, Saul et David (1984).

In these paintings, the families are no longer fleeing the pogroms in the trains but are disembarking in New York, a new country of welcome according to his imagination, as in America (1984). It was also in New York that he created the sculpture Myriam, which became the model for Venus, the monumental bronze sculpture that was installed at the entrance to Saint-Paul de Vence in 2007.

New York was added to the list of cities that inspired Théo Tobiasse, and from then on woman personified freedom.

Back in Saint-Paul de Vence he experimented in new techniques from 1986 onwards. He abandoned oil paints and gouache and chose instead the less restrictive acrylic. His mixed techniques on paper or canvas are a combination of collage, acrylic paint and oil pastels. He developed wood and steel panels that were cut out and painted for the large formats and the public orders: in particular:

In 1989 a triptich altarpiece entitiled La vie est une fête, five stained glass windows, and a sculpture, L’Oiseau de lumière, for the Saint-Sauveur chapel in le Cannet. This work came to summarize his quest for light and freedom.

In 1992, a retrospective showing of Théo Tobiasse’s work was organized in the Cagnes-sur-Mer Grimaldi castle museum. His studios became meeting places for his artist friends.

The American writer Chaïm Potok visited the Saint-Paul studio on several occasions and he devoted a monograph to Tobiasse: Artist in Exile published in 1986 in New York by Rizzoli, and he met there the writer James Baldwin, Tobiasse’s friend and neighbour, in 1987.

He travelled a great deal for his one-man shows. In 1987, New Vision Japan exhibited his latest paintings in Tokyo, Kokura and Mito then in 1991 large sculptures in cut out painted wood panels in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kōbe, Fuokoka and Taïpei.

He discovered Prague in 1992 and returned there in 1995, and every year he travelled to Venice to draw. Venice from then on completed the quartet of cities that inspired him. During his travels he filled diary-cum-sketchbooks with drawings, the first of which were reproduced in facsimile in 1992 by the publishers les éditions de la Différence. They are Les Venise de Tobiasse, and Dessins et écrits.

In 1994 he participated in the creation of floats for the Nice Carnival, along with other artists from the School of Nice such as Arman, Ben, Jean-Claude Farhi, Claude Gilli, and Patrick Moya. The theme that year was “The King of the Arts”. He worked on the exhibition of the models of the floats at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice and in the publishing of a portfolio of Carnival-themed lithographs.


On his death, he received tributes from the Minister for Culture, Aurélie Filipetti, and from the Deputy and Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi.

Main works in the public collections.


Love of books

Reproductions of sketch books


Fêtes Juives et une fresque, Que tes tentes sont belles, ô Jacob (1982), the Nice Jewish Community Centre (Michelet).

Les Trains de terreur des bords de la folie (1983), oil on canvas, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, the United States.

Sarah portant Isaac, retour du Mont-Moriah (1984), oil on canvas, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice.

La Liberté éclairant Saint-Paul-de-Vence and La Liberté éclairant les enfants de l’exil (1987), mixed techniques on panels of wood laminate, each panel 400 × 290 cm, Nice Convention Centre, France.

Musée Tobiasse – Chapelle Saint-Sauveur (1989), showcasing of the Saint-Sauveur Chapel on the theme “Life is a celebration”, comprising an interior wall mural, stained glass windows, an outside mosaic on the façade and a polychrome sculpture on the forecourt Oiseau de lumière, Le Cannet, France.

The scenery and costumes for Pygmalion (1992) by George Bernard Shaw, for the Arketal Company, within the framework of the International puppet festival, Cannes, France.

Le Chant des prophètes (1993), stained glass windows in the Great Synagogue of Nice, France.

Venus de Saint-Paul de Vence (2008), bronze sculpture, Saint-Paul de Vence, France.

Albert Memmi, Le Miraculé: Important Works, Steensen, Oslo, 1984.

Chaïm Potok, Théo Tobiasse: Artist in Exile, Rizzoli, New York, 1986.

Sylvie Forestier, Tobiasse: le radeau des cantiques, Librairie Séguier and Vision Nouvelle, 1991.

Raoul Mille, Théo Tobiasse: Regards secrets, Retrospective Catalogue, Cagnes-sur-Mer Castle Museum, 1992.

Gérard de Cortanze, Tobiasse: ou le patient labyrinthe des forme, La Différence, in the collection « Mains et Merveilles », 1992.

Aux franges de l’éveil
Work illustrated by six lithographs. Six poems by M.A. Courouble. Pierre Chave, Vence, 1987.

Gouttes d’ombre sur la peau des jours
Work illustrated by six etchings. Text by Guy Marester. Pierre Chave, Vence, 1988.

La fête de Riwka
Work illustrated by twenty lithographs, each unique, having all been printed in different colours. Text by J. Thuillier. Pierre Chave, Vence, 1989.

Errances et désirs au temps du Sinaï
Work illustrated by three 17 x 98 cm folded and concertinaed intaglio engravings and etchings. Text by Marek Halser. Robert et Lydie Dutrou, 1990.

L’amour couleur de psaumes
Work illustrated by two 14 x 83.5 cm folded and concertinaed intaglio engravings and etchings. Text by Raoul Mille. Robert et Lydie Dutrou, Paris, 1991.

Artistes, muses et volupté
Work illustrated by eight original lithographs in a box containing a Sketchbook-Diary, « dessins et écrits » by the Artist. Edition de la Différence, Paris, 1992.

C’était il y a 500 ans…
Work created for the five hundredth anniversary of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews. Presented in a canvas portfolio, containing six original lithographs with a text in Hebrew taken from Exodus, told by Haïm Vidal-Sephira. La Diagonale de l’Art, Paris, 1992.

Entre Myrte et Fleur de Cannelle
Album containing seven original lithographs with a text by the Artist. Editions de la Différence, Paris, 1992.

Aux confins de tous les désirs
Work illustrated by seven original lithographs with a text by the Artist, all inside a canvas-covered cardboard insert. Editions de la Différence, Paris, 1995.

Un chant d’exil et de lumière
Album containing six original lithographs with a text by the Artist. Klim Art Publisher, Toronto, Canada, 1997.

50 printemps pour Israël de toutes les lumières
Album containing seven original lithographs with a text by the Artist. Klim Art Publisher, Toronto, Canada, 1999.

Théo Tobiasse, Les Venise de Tobiasse, éditions de la Différence, Paris, 1992 (ISBN978-2729107925).

Théo Tobiasse, Dessins et Ecrits, éditions de la Différence, 1992 (ISBN2-7291-0791-6).

Théo Tobiasse, Saint-Paul-de-Vence et autres rivages: Journal Tobiasse 1984/1992, éditions de la Différence, Paris, 1994 (ISBN2-7291-1045-3).

Théo Tobiasse, Les Carnets de Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1993-2001, éditions Biro, Paris, 2007.

Josy Eisenberg, Dis-moi qui tu peins, TF1, 1977.

Patrick Visionneau, L’Atelier de Tobiasse, FR3 Côte d’Azur, 1988.

Laurence Badon, La Traversé du désir, FR3 Côte d’Azur, Magazine des Arts, 1988.

Dominik Rimbault, La vie est une fête, Dominik Rimbault et le CNAP, 1989.

Jacques Renoir, Tobiasse, Encore un fleuve à traverser, Anna Productions, 1990.

Georges Bégou, Rétrospective Tobiasse, Antenne 2, (1992).

Laurence Badon, Tobiasse se penche sur 35 ans de création, FR3 Côte d’Azur, Magazine culturel, 1992.

Dominik Rimbault, Mémoire gravée dans la couleur du temps, Dominik Rimbault et le CNAP, 2001.

The early years
The beginner painter
The work Tobiasse
American years