'The size of this painting is intimidating: the subjects have so much motion, emotion and expression'

Allan LambSaint Maxent, 1997, by Jean Jansem (1920–2013), 10ft by 7ft, Private Collection

Allan Lamb says:
The piece hangs in a friend’s villa in the South of France and catches my eye whenever I visit, plus my friend knew the painter, Jean, and his wife and still maintains contact with their son Jany, who now runs Galerie Matignon, which specialises in his father’s art. The size of this painting is intimidating: the subjects have so much motion, emotion and expression.

Allan Lamb is a former England cricketer (1982–92).

John McEwen comments on Saint Maxent:
Jean Jansem was born Ohannes Semerdjian in Seuleuze, near Bursa, Turkey, of Armenian parents. His father was a silk merchant. The Armenian genocide forced the family into Greek, then French exile. In Greece, Ohannes, aged nine, was confined to bed for a year. It was then he began to draw. The family settled in Paris, where Ohannes, now Jean, studied art at the Academie Montparnasse and the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs.

International fame came in the 1950s with muted figurative pictures that reflected the austere postwar mood. In the late 1960s, his wife opened Galerie Matignon in the rue St Honore, principally as an outlet for his prints. It was the first time an artist had been represented by his own gallery.

In the print boom of the 1970s, turnover matched the gallery’s unrivalled spaciousness to make it the biggest in France. Madame Jansem became almost as famous as her husband, who latterly was awarded the highest rank of the Légion d’honneur and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, with similar awards from Armenia and the singular distinction of two private Jansem museums in Japan.

His son Jany writes of Saint Maxent: ‘Jansem was almost 80 and began to be disturbed by thoughts of death. He always had a “mystic” side but realism came first. He had to see something in the “raw” to inspire his imagination. Here you can see the painter “challenging” Death. Skulls in his art are almost laughing. My mother used to joke to him: “You will never deserve Heaven anyway!”’

Galerie Matignon has closed indefinitely and Mr Jansem now runs the company by private appointment.