Both an artist and a patriot, Panos Terlemezian made a remarkable contribution to Armenian fine arts in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in Van, in the Armenian-populated suburb of Aygestan, on March 3, 1865, the son of a farmer. His love for painting was born during his studies in the local elementary school and then in the Central College of Van (1881-1886).
He graduated with honors and, afterwards, he taught drawing, aesthetics, and geography in the schools of Van from 1886-1889. Meanwhile, he became a member of the first Armenian political party, the Armenagan Organization, formed in Van. In 1890 he was arrested on charges of political activities against Sultan Abdul Hamid II, but was freed six months later for lack of evidence. In 1891 he was arrested again and sentenced to death, but two years later he was able to escape prison and go first to Persia and then to Tiflis. After doing menial jobs, in 1895 he went to St. Petersburg to follow studies at an art society school with a scholarship granted by Catholicos Mgrdich I (Khrimian Hayrig).
His studies were interrupted in 1897, when the Russian police arrested him in Reval (now Tallinn, the capital of Estonia) upon a request of the Ottoman government. He was transferred to half a dozen prisons until he was secretly exiled to Persia in 1898. He managed to escape again to Batum, in Georgia, and leave for Paris. In Paris he entered the famous Julian Academy, from which he graduated in 1904.
Upon his return to Eastern Armenia, Terlemezian, who had already participated in collective exhibitions in Paris, created various paintings inspired by his visits to Etchmiadzin, Sanahin, and other places. He settled in Tiflis, where he taught at the Nersessian and Hovnanian schools, and participated actively in cultural life from 1905-1908.
He traveled to Egypt and Algeria in 1908, and then resided in Paris for the next two years, where he continued painting. In 1910 he settled in Constantinople, where he would live until the beginning of World War I. Here he befriended some of the most prominent intellectuals of the period, and shared his residence with Gomidas Vartabed. In 1913 he gave his first individual exhibition in Constantinople and won the golden medal at the international exhibition of Munich. Returning to Van, he was one of the leaders of the resistance of April-May 1915 against the attack of Turkish regular troops. After the retreat of the Russian troops, he went to Etchmiadzin with the Armenian refugees and then to Tiflis. In 1916-1917 he became one of the founding members and organizers of the Society of Armenian Artists in Tiflis and its branch in Rostov-on-the-Don.
Terlemezian went abroad in 1920. He lived for a few years in Constantinople, Italy, and France, and in 1923 he settled in the United States, where he lived and presented individual exhibition in New York, Fresno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles during the next five years. He also participated in the Biennial of Venice (1924).
In 1928 he was invited by the government of Soviet Armenia to return. He would live in Yerevan until his death. He gave individual exhibitions in Yerevan and Tiflis. In 1930 he was given the title of Emeritus Artist of Soviet Armenia and became a member of the Society of Painters of the Soviet Union in 1932.
Panos Terlemezian passed away on April 30, 1941. The art school established in Yerevan in 1921 was posthumously named after him.