Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tsuguharu Foujita

“I lived in Tokyo until I turned age 25. I spent the next twenty years in Paris. I became a man in Japan, and I became a painter in France. I would like to live in the world as a Japanese.” — Foujita Tsuguharu

Another of the book-finds I bagged at Bright Light Books over the 4th of July weekend was a biography of Japanese painter Foujita Tsuguharu. The book is Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita, by Phyllis Birnbaum who describes Foujita as a man caught between East and West. Let me be honest from the start about my attraction to this artist. Much of his work is of a kind that fails to move me, while on the other hand I can see in his paintings or prints the flash of genius that may have been his gift. I am more interested in his lifestyle, a style outrageous, full of poses and brilliance and not unlike a later Japanese artist, Mishima Yukio, the writer who in 1970 killed himself with a sharp sword across the belly. Like Mishima in the 60s and early 70s, Foujita in the first half of the century was fond of making appearances in odd costumes, avant garde or otherwise. He wore hoop earrings below a jet black bowl haircut, circular black framed glasses, a Hitler-like mustache, married several times and with the occasional lover. He was an interesting man who more often than not left me uncommitted to his talents.

Painter and printmaker Foujita Tsuguharu (born Fujita Tsukuji) was born in Tokyo in 1886. Second son of a doctor from the samurai class, Foujita graduated from the Imperial School of Fine Arts in 1910, where he studied under Kuroda Seiki, an artist well known for his Western style of painting. Oddly enough, Kuroda was critical of young Fujita, though Fujita had already received several medals and prizes, and one of his paintings even purchased by the Japanese Emperor. In his early years Fujita seemed slated for a painting career in his native country, but with an itch for foreign styles he traveled to Paris in 1913. Once settled there he began applying Japanese ink techniques to Western style painting. Changing his name to Tsuguharu Foujita he quickly became friends with Modigliani, Picasso and Matisse among others of the Paris School.

His first exhibition was in 1917, but he achieved fame a year later with a Paris exhibition of his work featuring beautiful women and cats, painted in what was seen as a very original technique. He made his reputation with his use of white paint, a self-mixed and spectacular pearlescent white which he drew on with Japanese sumi, or India ink. Others tried to learn the secret of Foujita’s white but the artist remained closed-mouthed about his ‘recipe.’

By 1924 his name had become so familiar he was one of the most important exhibitors at the much respected Salon d' Automne in Paris. With his fame established he began traveling to different countries, including the US and South America. At one exhibition in Buenos Aires 10,000 people lined up to get his autograph.

He returned to Paris from his travels during the early stages of World War II, but soon embarked for Tokyo, staying there until 1949. Once more in Paris he continued to paint, by then an established and respected figure in the European art community. Later in life he changed his name to Leonard and converted to Catholicism. He died in Zurich in 1968.

The photographs from top to bottom:

1. Two photos of the artist separated by his signature, Tsuguharu (Japanese) Foujita (English); undated

2. Foujita and one of his many cats; sepia photograph signed and dated 1927

3. Quai Aux Fleurs; lithograph, 1950

4. Woman and Cat; Japanese watercolor over pencil dated 1937

5. Two Cats; watercolor, date unknown

6. Nina Hamnett Having a Bath; woodcut, printed in red-brown ink on Japanese paper, 1917

1 comment:

  1. I like Two Cats and Quai Aux Fleurs (the building, yes?) I know it's not Woman and Cat as listed. Those two appeal to me; that old adage of not knowing a lot about art but knowing what I like. Also love the sepia photo of him and his cat. Very interesting post on an artist I knew little about.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America