Zareh Mutafian was born in 1907 at Ünye, a port on the Ottoman Black Sea Coast. During the 1915 Genocide, his whole family was massacred. Left as an orphan, he finally joined the Near East Relief, first in Samsun, then in Greece. In 1923, he settled in Italy, by the Mekhitarist fathers who had then a branch in Milan, which gave him the opportunity to study painting at the Brera Academy. He held his first exhibition in 1933, and then moved to Geneva where, for the first time, he felt quiet and painted the calm nature of Switzerland. These Italian and Swiss years were followed by the French period, after his marriage in 1939 with a French Armenian dentist. His style changed quite a lot when he discovered in the Paris museums the impressionist and fauvist painters: the colour became much more important in his art, although he remained faithful to the portrait all over his career.
He soon became an important member of the active Armenian intelligentsia of Paris, and he never stopped writing books and articles, mainly on Art history. Brittany reminded him his native Black Sea, and the marines became one of his favourite subjects. In 1965, he exhibited his paintings commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Genocide. Another shock came in 1967, when he was for the first time invited to expose in Soviet Armenia. He remained very much impressed by the Ararat mountain, by Armenia’s golden autumn, by the beautiful monasteries, all of which became new subjects in his art. In 1976, his last exhibition in France was called “The sea”, and one year before his death he organized in 1979 his very last exhibition, in New York under the title “Armenia seen by Mutafian”.
As an Armenian orphan who became a famous French painter, Zareh Mutafian is a vivid figure of the Genocide: he always remained an Armenian, he thought and wrote in Armenian, but his art assimilated the best of European painting.