Jean-Thomas Ungerer, aka Tomi, is born in Strasbourg on November 28, the son of Alice (nee Essler) and artist, historian, engineer and astronomical clock manufacturer Theodore. A brother Bernard, eight years older and two sisters – Edith and Vivette, precede him.
Tomi’s drawings from 1939 – 1945 bear witness to his wartime experiences.
In 1940, Alsace is annexed by the Germans, and Tomi undergoes Nazi indoctrination at his school in Colmar where French is forbidden. In winter 1944/45, he sees at first hand the battle to liberate the Colmar pocket, the last German Bridge head over the Rhine. His drawings from the time bear witness to these wartime experiences. French teaching is reinstated in schools. Speaking Alsation is banned at school.
Tomi joins the boy scouts and his Carnets (Notebooks) tell of numerous bicycle trips made throughout France.
After failing the second part of the Baccalauréat exam (in a school report, his headmaster describes him as a “willfully perverse and subversive individualist”), Tomi decides to hitchhike to the North Cape. In Lapland, he crosses the Russian lines. His drawings of the period are influenced by existentialism.
He joins the Méharistes (French Camel Corps) in Algeria, but is discharged after falling seriously ill. In October 1953 he goes to the Municipal School for Decorative Arts in Strasbourg. Tomi is kindly asked to leave after one year.
In 1954 – 55 Tomi became increasingly interested in the US.
Increasingly interested in the US, he starts visiting the American Cultural Centre and befriends American Fulbright students. He travels widely across Europe (to Iceland, Norway, Yugoslavia and Greece), hitchhiking and working on cargo vessels. Between trips Tomi earns a living as a window dresser and advertising artist for local businesses.
He meets the children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom at Harper and Row who publishes his first children’s book The Mellops go Flying. It is an immediate, award winning success. He does his first advertising campaign for Burroughs machines but also collaborates with numerous magazines such as Esquire, Life, Holiday, Harper’s, Sport’s Illustrated and The New York Times.
1958 – 62
Tomi completes the Mellops series and publishes many other books for children, including Crictor, Adelaide, Emil, The Three Robbers and Rufus, which win numerous prizes, as well as satirical books like Horrible and The Underground Sketchbook. He begins a long-term collaboration with Daniel Keel of Zurich-based publisher Diogenes Verlag who has since become his main publisher.
He holds his first major exhibition in Berlin where he meets Willy Brandt and Günther Grass. Tomi becomes busily engaged in the Civil Rights movement against segregation and the Vietnam War. He publishes numerous posters which are notable for their radical stance.
(Self)Publication of The Party, a book in which Tomi expresses his aversion towards New York elite society as well as Fornicon. Tomi becomes the food editor for Playboy magazine. He is commissioned to create sculptures for the Canadian World’s Fair Pavilion. He rents a studio in Montreal where with Gordon Sheppard and Francois D’Allegret he created “The Wild Oats” a movie company.
In 1972 Tomi does drawings for the election campaign of Willy Brandt’s SPD party. Percy Adlon films Tomi Ungerer’s Landleben in Canada.
Tomi meets Robert Pütz with whom he will collaborate on numerous advertising campaigns.
Tomi renews his links with Alsace by donating a substantial part of his work and his toy collection to the Musées de Strasbourg. He illustrates Das Grosse Liederbuch, a collection of popular German songs which sells well over a million copies.
Retrospective exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (Louvre) in Paris celebrates 25 years of Tomi Ungerer’s career. The exhibition moved to Munich where there were over 120,000 visitors, then to Düsseldorf, Hambourg Dublin and the Royal Festival Hall in London where one third of the show was closed down having met with strong objections.
Tomi films for Channel 4 (GB) with Celia Lowenstein a documentary called Fascination Fascism.
The Schwarzbuch is published by Stern and is awarded the prize of best political book of the year in Germany.
Tomi is awarded the Legion d’Honneur in Paris. He creates the Kultur Bank to promote Franco-German cultural exchanges. Tomi joins the interministerial board for Franco-German Relations, headed by the minister André Bord.
He publishes Amnesty Animal and he is made honorary president of the European SPCA.
Tomi donates another 4500 drawings and his collection of 2500 antique toys to the city of Strasbourg.
The American Biographical Institute lists him as one of “500 World Leaders of Influence”. He takes part in numerous humanitarian operations such as for the French Red Cross against AIDs and for Amnesty International.
He is awarded the Order of the Deutsches Bundesverdienstdreuz for his work in the field of Franco-German relations.
Taschen publishes Erotoscope, a large collection of his erotic work to commemorate his 70th birthday.
He has an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Strasbourg entitled Tomi Ungerer et New York.
Le Nuage Bleue is made into an animated film.
As Ambassador for the Region of Alsace, he is decorated with the Cross of Baden Wurttemberg.
Tomi is named Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the Council of Europe and he drafts the Declaration of Children’s Rights.
He is awarded an honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Karlsruhe.
Tomi donates his personal library of over 1500 volumes, which were incorporated into the Tomi Ungerer museum which opened this same year. The Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg is unique because it is the first time in French history that a government-funded museum has been established on behalf of a living artist. It was financed by the City of Strasbourg and the French Ministry of Culture. With a stock of over 8000 drawings, the museum changes its exhibit every 4 months and is curated by Dr. Therese Willer.
A full-length animated movie of The Three Robbers comes out in Cinemas in France and Germany.
Tomi has a Retrospective Exhibition including his new sculptures at the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl near Cologne.