News and Views

Substantial donation of Tomi Ungerer works made to University College Cork

10 Oct 2022
Tomi Ungerer - Copyright Nicole Bachmann

The family of the late French-born artist Tomi Ungerer (1931-2018), who lived and worked in West Cork since 1976 are making a substantial donation of his works to University College Cork (UCC).

Born in Strasbourg in 1931, Tomi Ungerer worked in New York, Canada and Ireland, as well as his place of birth.  During his childhood he experienced the Nazi occupation of Alsace during the Second World War and thus changed nationality twice as a child.  During the war, he learned to speak German and English fluently and so ended up becoming perfectly trilingual. 

He published over 140 books which have been translated into 30 languages, ranging from his acclaimed children’s stories to illustrated memoirs and controversial volumes of social satire some with adult themes. 

Poster Art 

Ungerer was renowned for his iconic advertising campaigns as well as political posters that railed against the Vietnam War and racial injustice in the 1960s.  Throughout his career he embraced the poster as a means of political messaging. 

Social and Politically Engaged Artist 

His political engagement continued until his death and he was involved in numerous campaigns against Racism and Fascism, for Nuclear disarmament, Ecology and numerous humanitarian causes including important campaigns for European integration and in particular for Franco-German relations.  Ungerer’s artwork provides an invaluable commentary on the social and political changes that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century. 

Commenting on the outlook that shaped his work Tomi stated  “Growing up I witnessed all the ugly facets of war. That and the death of my father when I was 3 ½ years old marked my childhood. By the age of fourteen my outlook on the world was clearly defined by a loathing and abhorrence of violence, prejudice, injustice and fanaticism of any kind.” 

Children’s Books 

In 2003 Ungerer was appointed as the first Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the Council of Europe. He has published over forty books for children, many of which are considered modern classics and several of which are taught on the school curriculum in France and Germany.  Ungerer is considered a pioneer in the sphere of Children’s books, never talking down to his young audience but rather challenging them to ask questions of the world around them. Though his books often place their protagonists in challenging situations, they are never scared:   

I think it is crucial to show children that no matter what one’s flaws are, there is always a way to survive and win by being different and making the best out of what one has. I want to show children that everyone is different but equally unique. 

One important element is that the children in my books are always fearless. I was brought up that way by my mother. Nothing could phase her and humour always took the upper hand. Winking her eye for example, she said with a snigger before a confrontation with the Gestapo, “You’ll see, they are all morons!” 

If all these books still thrive, now translated into over 40 languages, it is most likely because at the time they broke all the rules applied to children’s books peopled with cushy teddy bears in an illusory world where everyone is nice, happy and stupid.  


In 2007 the Tomi Ungerer Museum opened in Strasbourg, making Ungerer the first living artist in France to have a museum dedicated to their life and work. In 2014, Ungerer was awarded one of the most distinguished honours in France, Commandeur de l’Ordre National du Mérite, by President Hollande. In 2018 he was promoted to Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur by the President Macron.  Both of these awards were given in recognition of his continued lifelong struggle against prejudice using both artistic and political means.   

Remarkable archive 

Before his death, Ungerer had begun working with University College Cork to establish a collection to complement that held by the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg.  The donation will include:  a complete library of books by Tomi, a complete archive of posters and prints and a selection of original artworks including over 900 previously unknown early drawings by Tomi (circa 1950-1956), book manuscripts and preparatory works.   

This remarkable archive will be of immense interest to the visual arts community in Ireland and internationally and will facilitate research and exhibitions of Ungerer’s work into the future.  University College Cork have committed to continue to partner with the Ungerer estate to support and promote Tomi’s work especially in the area of academic research. 

John FitzGerald, University Librarian, University College Cork stated: 

Until his recent death, we worked for a number of years with the artist Tomi Ungerer who was a neighbour and close friend of the University Library. Later this year, the Tomi Ungerer estate will donate, as per Tomi’s personal wishes, a collection of original works to University College Cork as a “gift to the Irish nation.”  In our discussions with Tomi, his determination was very clear, that this collection would be accessible and used by students and researchers in a multi-disciplinary context, and integrated into the University’s research, teaching and learning programmes. 

Aria Ungerer on behalf of the Tomi Ungerer Estate stated: 

The Tomi Ungerer Estate is absolutely delighted to announce that we will be making a significant donation of over 1000 original works alongside a comprehensive selection of posters, prints and books to the University College Library.  Among the works being given are original drawn book manuscripts and preparatory works as well as a collection of never before seen work made by Tomi between the ages of 18 and 26.  These drawings were discovered just a few years ago and provide an important missing link in the story of how Tomi’s unique style developed.  Our wish is to stimulate more academic study into Tomi’s work, especially at post-graduate level, and to also encourage academic exchanges between Ireland and especially France, Germany and the USA where other significant collections are held.  UCC has been a key partner for us over the last decade, providing logistical support in archiving Tomi’s full collection and we very much look forward to continuing to work closely with the team there on many future projects. We would especially like to thank John Fitzgerald who worked closely with Tomi on preparing the donation and to his colleague Crónán Ó Doibhlin who has been a great support to us throughout the project of archiving Tomi’s work.

Tomi found so much inspiration living and working in Ireland and so the act of making a gift to Ireland, and specifically to UCC, was a natural expression of his gratitude – he used to say “Alsace was my roots.  Ireland is my leaves.” 


University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF