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Theo Tobiasse

Also known as Tobias Eidesas, Theo Tobiasse was born Jaffa, Israel on April 26th, 1927. He was a French painter, sculptor, artist, and plastic artist. Theo was the younger son of two Jews who lived under the Palestine mandate; this enabled them to live far away from the political upheavals and pogroms of Eastern Europe.  At some point during their stay there, the family ran into financial difficulty and was forced to return home to Lithuania. Shortly thereafter they moved to Paris, a place where Tobiasse’ father was able to find work as a typographer.

His parents noticed that he had a gift for painting and drawing at an early age. However, his life was upset by the death of his mother and his inability to join l’Ecole nationale superieure des arts decoratifs for racial reasons. He did, however, sign his name up for private classes in advertising drawing on the boulevard of St. Michel but he gave this up only nine months later due to family issues. Shortly thereafter, he began a career as an advertising graphic designer at the art printer Draeger’s. During this time he also made theatre sets, tapestry cartoons, and shop window designs for Hermes on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honore.


Once he obtained French nationality in the year 1950, Theo and his family decided it was time to leave Paris and make a home in Nice, the place where he continued his career as a graphic designer for the Havas Agency.


His Career as a Painter

Theo first exhibited paintings at the Painter’s fair in South West France in the year 1960. In the year 1961 he won the prize for the youngest Mediterranean painter as well as had his works exhibited by the famous art dealer Armand Drouant at the Faubourg Saint-Honore Gallery in Paris in 1962.


In 1961, Tobiasse won the Dorothy Gould prize. After this he decided to dedicate himself wholly to the study of the fine arts. At this point many of his works were exhibited all over the world, in places such as Geneva, Montreal, London, Suzrich, Lausanne, Los Angeles, Kiev, and Paris. He held his first one-man show in New York in 1968.


Being self-taught, Theo studied the techniques of the masters whose works were hung in museums. He, for instance, took the works from the artist Rembrandt and incorporated his style into his own paintings.


From the year 1964, Tobiasse was able to develop his own iconography which he drew from his memories of his; the time he spent in lithuania as a child; his family spent time seeking shelter from the Shoah.


During this time, he made trains a sort of motif. On that same note, the memory of the train that brought Jews to the camps became a major theme in his work as well.


Work by Tobiasse

When Theo made a visit to Jerusalem in 1970, he was brought closer to his ancestral origins. The first ever glass window he’d created was “Jewish Festival” themed; it was created for the Jewish Community Centre in Nice. During this time he continued to travel and absorb the different cultures that he came into contact with.


It was in the year 1982 when he met Elie Wiesel. He had a number of one man shows dedicated to him on French television in 1977. Aside from that, he also had a retrospective exhibition of his work organized at the Ponchettes Contemporary Art gallery in Nice.

Theo explored a large number of mediums including stained glass windows, ceramics, lithography, carborundum engraving, and sculpture. Tobiasse did a collaboration with Pierre Chave, a lithographer from Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where he explained a technique where they were able to make lithographs with between eighteen to twenty colours. He made a number of first editions which he published in France, the U.S., and Sweden.


Tobiasse relationship with America

Kenneth Nahan Sr., an American art dealer Tobiasse met in 1978 encouraged him to join the other french painters who’d joined the United States. In response to this urging Tobiasse decided to settle in New York in the year 1984. When he first got there, he held a job at the Chelsea Hotel, but eventually settled into a studio of his own in Manhattan. Shortly after doing so, he decided to divide his time and work between New York and Saint-Paul de Vence and New York.


The style of his paintings in America changed greatly from the style of their European counterparts; this was mainly because of the change in their themes and scale. Many of these paintings are full of family portraits, Biblical characters, and children.

A major difference between the American productions and the European ones is that they no longer featured families who were running from the pogroms in trains but rather, featured families who were leaving in New York. In New York he also created the sculpture Myriam, the model for Venus, a sculpture that was installed at the entrance to Saint Paul de Vence.

Back in Saint Paul de Vence he played around with new techniques. He lost interest in oil paints and gouache and decided to focus on using acrylic. He also developed steel and wood panels that were cut out and painted for the large formats and the public orders.

Theo Tobiasse French Painter
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