Michel de TARNOWSKY or TARNOWSKI was born in Nice on April, 26, 1870. His Russian-born father migrated to Europe toward 1845. As the Czar had put a price on his head, Wasilievitch Tarnowsky, after studying medicine both in Heidelberg, Germany and France, finally settled in Nice in 1869 with his young American wife, Juliana Oakley, a painter like her brother, her sisters and her ancestors.
Michel de Tarnowsky was the eldest of five children. After the untimely death of his father in 1886, he decided to take up medicine, like his brother George, in later years. Unfortunately, typhoid fever, often fatal in those days, left him suffering from terrible headaches and put his medical studies in jeopardy. Then, he gave free rein to his artistic disposition.
He enrolled at the School of Decorative Arts in Nice where he attended courses in architecture and modeling. His taste for sculpture rapidly prevailed since he wrote:
“As early as 1890, within 3 months, I made 26 plaster busts, marble and brass medallions.”
Juliana de Tarnowsky knew the unstable nature of the profession and she also knew how expensive the materials necessary to a sculptor were. So, even before he could present a rough shape or model, she tried to talk her son out of becoming a sculptor. She stressed the fact that it would be hard to make a living out of sculpting and even harder to provide for a family.
Since his determination would not waver, Michel who loved his mother deeply – he made a wonderful portrait of her – made a deal with her. If he managed to prove that he could make a living out of sculpting, she would no longer stand in his way. A few months later, the young artist offered her a lovely period sitting-room suite, that has been religiously kept by his family ever since.
It is only in 1891 that the young artist could write the following words:
“Having reaped the reward of my work, I then felt attracted beyond remedy to mysterious Paris, the artistic center, the heart of the thinking universe, to which sooner or later, the eager and productive soul will long to go”.
Having quickly got acquainted with this mysterious Paris, Michel became the student of DALOU and the following year was admitted at “l’école des Beaux-Arts” in FALGUIERE Studio.
As from 1894 Michel de Tarnowsky exhibited his works regularly at the Salon des Artistes Français as well as the International Society of Painters and Sculptors in Paris. He also exhibited his works in numerous other “Salons”, whether in Paris, Amiens, New York, London, etc….
At the beginning of the 20th century, Michel de Tarnowsky taught sculpture at the New York School of Arts. Nothing much is left of his stay in the U.S.A. We know that he made some busts for some private collections and was asked by the National Society of American Sculptors to hold an exhibition at the Madison Square Garden.
It is very likely that Michel de Tarnowsky returned to France between 1909 and 1910. Indeed, he wrote poems dated July 1909, in Richemont, and in 1911, he made the pediment of the Préfecture in Nice. Soon after, on March 23, 1912, in Paris, he signed the contract entrusting him to decorate the front of the Hotel Negresco, in Nice.
At the beginning of W.W. I, Michel de Tarnowsky was appointed to the British Army as Interpreter and Liaison officer. Highly commended several times by the Army officials for his courage his bravery and his composure, he received the Two-Star Croix de Guerre, The Military Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Légion d’Honneur.
Meanwhile he spent all his free time in the Army quarters molding clay. That’s how “Le Triomphe de l’Humanité” came to be created.
As soon as the war was over, penniless like many others, Michel de Tarnowky was back to his easel and made some war memorials in Cannes, Nice, St Marcellin, Moirans, St Menehould, monuments or building decorations in Chamonix, Nice , Paris etc….
Life went on, but the aftermath of W.W. I, the great depression of 1926, followed soon after by a new one in France in 1936, made life very unstable for artists and particularly for sculptors.
When W.W. II broke out in 1939, Michel de Tarnowsky was working on a bust of Maurice Mignon, the Head of the Centre Universitaire Mediterranéen (C.U.M.) and on a drawing for the pediment of l’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Nice. He also devoted his linguistic skills to the Armies but unfortunately he lost his sight and passed away in 1946.
We all know a sculptor's or a painter’s eye is the main source of inspiration! Can we imagine how hard these 7 years of blindness must have been for Michel de Tarnowsky!!
The love and marvelous devotion of Antoinette, his wife and my mother, the presence of their family, some precious friends and their deep Faith in God contributed to the fact that never ever did my father express any resentment, bitterness, regret or revolt. He was a paragon of resignation and equanimity.
Since he left us, I have been putting all my energies into perpetuating and honoring the memory of the Man as well as the Artist and his Work.
Family and friends gave me their support through the Association “Les Amis de Michel de Tarnowsky”. To day they present us with this DVD and barring accidents a catalogue of Michel de Tarnowsky’s most famous works will be published at the beginning of 2007.
I was able to achieve my aim thanks to the unwavering support of my friends.
Thank you all and everyone!!
I am infinitely grateful!!