The Jean Tabaud Project

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About the artist

Jean as a young man
Self portrait

     Jean Tabaud was born in the village of Saujon on the southwest coast of France in 1914. As a teen, he worked at various jobs, including cloakroom attendant in a musical hall in Bordeaux. It was there that his talent for ballet was discovered and he was sent to study classical dance in Paris. At age 20 he was dancing with the Comédie Française, then the Marquis de Cuevas' Grand Ballet Company, and the Ballets Russe, performing in Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Belgium, Switzerland, Rio de Janeiro, Tangiers, Casablanca, and Argentina.

     While in Buenos Aires he injured his back and returned to France for treatment. It was 1939 and the beginning of World War II. He was drafted into the French army, and with the fall of France taken prisoner by the occupying German army. To pass the time while in the prisoner-of-war camp, he began to sketch his fellow prisoners. Drawing had always been a hobby of his but which he had never seriously considered as a career. The ballet was his life. But his sketches met with great success and caught the attention of the prison guards, who asked to be sketched. Thus began his artist's career.

     He escaped from prison, and armed with false identity papers, traveled throughout France, haunting the cafés at night, executing portraits of German soldiers. By the time the war ended in 1945, he had done over 5,000. He then went to live in Morocco for eight years, where he established a school of dance and continued to paint.

     He came to the United States in 1953 and met with immediate success in Hollywood. Among his clients were Charles Boyer, Deborah Kerr, Pier Angeli, Marisa Pavan, and "Zizi" Jeanmarie. He established his permanent studio in New York in 1957 but kept up an international schedule as well, traveling to Europe for months at a time. Among his well-known clients were the Stavros Niarchos family, Baroness Fiona von Thyssen, Mrs. Mellon-Warner and her children, Mrs. Ted Kennedy, the Henry Ford family, Mrs. Pierre S. Dupont III, Henry Miller, John Kenneth Galbraith, and many others. But Jean Tabaud was best known for his insightful portraits of women of all ages. He adored the female form and became famous for his graceful nudes.

Jean at 56 (1970)

    In 1974 he retired to his home in the woods outside of Pawling, New York, but continued to maintain his studios in Manhattan and France, accepting occasional commissions there. In the late 1980's he sold these properties and retired permanently to the peaceful isolation of his Pawling woods, where he devoted himself to his writings and an occasional portrait of his neighbors and friends. Weakened by Lyme disease, stricken with prostrate cancer, loss of hearing and diminishing eyesight, he took his own life on December 3, 1996. Being without heirs, he left his considerable fortune to charity. Jean Tabaud was 82 years old and died, as he said in a note later found among his papers, "with satisfaction."

     A more extensive biography is available in the Data - Artwork Section.

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