Internationally renowned, Jean Carzou mastered a number of mediums throughout his career, often opting to work on textured, unusual surfaces rather than plain canvas. An extremely prolific and well-respected artist, Carzou produced dramatic works in these mediums on a variety of subjects. Carzou’s works adorned Paris opera houses and captured the passion of saints on chapel walls. Few artists have museums devoted solely to their work; however Carzou has two with a third opening soon. Musee Carzou opened in 1986 in Vence, in the south of France and the other is in Manosque, France. The third will open in Yerevan, Armenia.
Born Karnik Zouloumian on January 1st, 1907 in Syria to an Armenian family, Carzou later created his name from the first syllables of his first name and surname. Becoming a world traveler at an early age, Carzou was educated in Cairo, Egypt before moving to Paris at the age of 17 to study art and architecture in earnest. In 1925, he graduated from the Paris School of Architecture. Despite changing his name to the more Parisian “Jean Carzou”, the artist kept close ties to his Armenian heritage, and was ever mindful of his people’s all too frequent political struggles and sufferings. This superb artist brought Armenian contemporary art to its highest level. Politics ultimately became one of the young artist’s first means of support, when he abandoned the pursuit of architecture for the fine arts, and resorted to working as a street artist, doing caricatures and portraits to support himself and his studies. The caricatures became popular, and Carzou soon found his sketches of politicians and public figures published in Paris newspapers.
In 1939, Carzou had his first one-man show in Paris and he took the City of Lights by storm. It did not take him long to become famous. He was innovative, visionary and romantic. Through his line drawings and engravings he became well known as an illustrator for some of the 20th century’s most revered writers, including Hemingway, Albert Camus, Ionesco and Rimbaud. One of the artist’s master works, completed in his 80s, was the Apocalypse of Saint Joan in the Chapel at Manosque in Vaucluse, France, which depicted not merely the passion of the saint and national hero, but the ravages of war.
Carzou’s diverse talents were employed often by some of the most celebrated stages in Paris, and throughout the 1950s his set and costume designs appeared at the Comedie Francais as well as Paris Opera. Carzou also enjoyed sharing his art as an educator with the Paris Institute of Fine Arts, and he saw the establishment of the Carzou Foundation in 1991, at the age of 84.
Over the course of his long career, Carzou received many honors. He was a member of France’s Academie des Beaux-arts and decorated with the National Order of Merit. Other honors included three Hallmark Prizes for painting, Japan’s Education Prize, Brussells’ Grand Prize of Europe, and the Grand Prize of the Ile de France. In 1976 Carzou became the first living artist to have his work appear on a French postage stamp.
Jean Carzou, who remained active in his work and the management of his collections which now have permanent homes in America, Great Britain, Egypt, Japan and his adopted homeland, France, died of old age in Perigeaux, France on August 12, 2000. Jean Carzou was preceded in death by his wife, Nané Carzou in 1978, and is survived by their only child, writer Jean-Marie Carzou.