fujita - portrait

Tsugouharu FOUJITA 藤田


As a modern Japanese painter, Léonard Tsugouharu Fujita (or Tsugouharu Foujita) is a major figure of 20th century Avant-Garde. Franco-Japanese artist, Fujita admirably combines the fineness of Eastern painting to the boldness of Modern Western Art.

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Artwork analysis

foujita - madonnas art newsletter comes to you 8

“Foujita’s Madonnas”, an analysis by Astrid de Monteverde

A young modern Japanese painter’s youth and training

Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita (or Tsugouharu Foujita), is an all-round artist: painter, draughtsman, printmaker, illustrator, ceramicist, photographer, filmmaker and stylist. Born in Tokyo, he was registered for French lessons from primary school. From 1907, he studied traditional Japanese painting and then western painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Tokyo, from which he graduated in 1910. Tsugouharu Foujita confided: “I was given the prediction that I would be the top painter of Japan, but I dreamed of being the top painter of Paris; I had to go to the source.”

Tsugouharu Foujita and his Parisian years

In 1913, the Japanese painter went to Paris. Immediately after his arrival, Tsugouharu Foujita met Pablo Picasso. Cubist compositions and paintings by the Douanier Rousseau and Picasso’s studio plunged him into the universe of the avant-garde. He visited the Salon d’Automne which proved to be an aesthetic shock for him. He also visited the Louvre regularly to copy works there and to soak up western art. In Paris, Foujita became close to the painters of the School of Paris: André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Jules Pascin, Chaïm Soutine among others. After a short time spent in London during 1914, he returned to Paris with his friends Soutine and Modigliani. His first solo exhibition at the Galerie Georges Chéron in 1917 was successful: Tsugouharu Foujita exhibited 110 watercolours that Picasso admired.

Tsugouharu Foujita began to paint nudes. Several models inspired him, especially his favourite, Kiki de Montparnasse, whose beauty he admired in the famous Nu couché à la toile de Jouy (Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy) (Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris). As a languid odalisque, Kiki’s nude caused a sensation at the 1922 Salon d’Automne. Foujita said: “I’m the first Japanese painter to do nudes like western artists.”

In 1918, to flee from war, the Polish poet and dealer Léopold Zborowski brought Soutine, Modigliani and his wife Jeanne Hébuterne, and Foujita with his wife Fernande Barrey to Cagnes. This was an important time for Foujita who painted with his two friends for an entire summer. There, he met Auguste Renoir just before his death. In 1919, the painter Foujita participated in the first post war Salon d’Automne. His work received official recognition: he became the most popular portraitist in Paris. It is during this period that he developed the themes that can be found throughout his career: nudes, cats, self-portraits and still life. This thematic repetition can be explained by the tradition of Japanese prints with which Tsugouharu Foujita was very familiar. His variations are a search for the universal.

Foujita’s success comes from his original style that places him on the border between east and west. His subjects are drawn with restraint and minuteness on ivory backgrounds that he made, allowing him to place a thin black line and colours in a transparent and light oil.

The Japanese painter Tsugouharu Foujita’s international recognition

In 1921, he travelled to Italy. The modern Japanese painter was impressed especially by the art of Michelangelo at the Sistine chapel, which influenced his depictions of nudes. In 1922, when Fernande turned away from him, Tsugouharu Foujita met Lucie Badoud whom he nicknamed Youki (“Snow” in Japanese) because of the whiteness of her skin; she became not only his muse but also a face of Montparnasse. In 1925, Foujita was awarded the title of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. In 1929, he returned to Tokyo with Youki who left him for the poet Robert Desnos. Foujita was greeted in Japan like a prodigal son. He organized an exhibition that was a huge success. “Painting in the European manner with Japanese brushes and using water-based colours on oil paint is not forbidden. I have succeeded in doing it technically. I had finally forgotten the academic lessons.”

The Japanese painter Foujita left in 1931 with his model and new lover Madeleine Lequeux for a two-year voyage around Latin America. Then the couple travelled to Tokyo in 1934. Foujita organized a series of exhibitions at the Nichido Gallery and the Niko Gallery. Madeleine died suddenly in Tokyo in 1936. The painter Tsugouharu Foujita spent time in Paris again from 1939 until the Germans arrived in May 1940 and returned then to Japan. He flew to New York in 1949, and was then united with Kimiyo, who was his last wife. In New York he exhibited at the Komor Gallery and became a professor at the School of Fine Arts of Brooklyn. In 1950, he returned to Paris and settled with Kimiyo back in Montparnasse. Paul Pétridès, Romanet and Jeanne Jarrige-Bernard were then his main dealers. They organized exhibitions for him in Algeria, Morocco and Spain. In 1955, Tsugouharu Foujita acquired the French nationality.

In 1959, the painter Tsugouharu Foujita converted to Catholicism and took the baptismal name “Léonard”. This name also evokes his love of the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Foujita had been interested in religious art from early on. The Japanese painter had studied western art, its Greco-Roman roots and the ancient world of the Near East. He was perfectly familiar with religious iconography thanks to the discovery of images as he travelled around Europe, in Latin America and in many international museums. In 1964, Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita decided to decorate the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix in Reims known as the Foujita chapel. The last major project of the painter was the decoration with frescoes of this chapel in close partnership with the architect from Reims Maurice Clauzier.

Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita died on 29 January 1968, in Zurich. The work of the modern Japanese painter speaks for him: “I don’t like talking about my painting, because it is the picture that speaks forever, our life is so short.”

© Diane de Polignac Gallery
Translation: Jane Mac Avock

tsugouharu fujita - pohotographie dans son atelier

Selected public collections

Selected public collections

Aix-les-Bains, Musée Faure

Grenoble, Musée des beaux-arts

Le Havre, Musées des beaux-arts

Nîmes, Musées des beaux-arts

Paris, Musée National d’Art moderne, Centre Pompidou

Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris

Reims, Musée des beaux-arts

Strasbourg, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain

Villiers-le-Bâcle, Maison-atelier Foujita

Tokyo, Meguro Art Museum

Tokyo, National Modern Art Museum

Selected exhibitions

Selected exhibitions

Exposition Universelle de Paris (Paris World exhibition), Japan pavilion, 1900

13th Salon of the White Horse (Hakuba kai), Tokyo, 1910

Galerie Georges Chéron, Paris, 1917 (1st solo show), 1918, 1919, 1924, 1932

Salon Nika, Tokyo, 1917, 1934-1938, 1940

Galerie Devambez, Paris, 1918

Salon d’Automne, Paris, 1919-1924, 1926, 1950

Cercle Royal artistique et littéraire, Anvers, Sélection group exhibition, 1919

Salon des Indépendants, Paris, 1920, 1922, 1923, 1950

Galerie Constant Lepoutre, Paris, 1920

Foujita, Galerie Sélection, Brussels, 1920, 1921

First Annual International Exhibition Watertercolors, Chicago, 1921

Salon Teiten, Tokyo, 1922, 1924

Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Japanese art exhibition, Paris, 1922, 1923

Salon des Tuileries, Paris, 1923-1925

Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels, 1922, 1924

Galerie Katia Granoff, Paris, 1927

Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1928

Salon des artistes japonais à Paris, Galerie La Renaissance, Paris, 1929

Reinhardt Gallery, New York, 1930

Palace Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, solo show, 1930

Hall d’exposition, Sao Paulo, solo show, 1932

Nichido Gallery, Tokyo, 1934-1938, 1967, 1968

Museum of fine arts, Tokyo, Mexican period exhibition, 1934

Kennedy Gallery, New York, 1947

Manhattan Gallery, New York, 1947

Exhibition of Japanese modern art, National Museum, Tokyo, 1948

Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, solo show, 1948

Foujita Recent Paintings and drawings, Mathias Komor Gallery, New York, 1949

Galerie Paul Pétridès, Paris, series of solo shows, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964

Galerie Romanet, Alger, 1950, 1951, 1953 and in Paris, 1975

Marlborough Fine Art Limited, London, solo show, 1950

Círculo de bellas artes, Madrid, solo show, 1951

Galeria Alonso, Bilbao, 1953

God Konst Gallery, Göteborg, Sweden, 1953

Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo, 1955

Mostra di arte sacra, Trieste, 1961

Fujikawa Gallery, Osaka, 1965

Les Années 25, Art Déco/ Bauhaus/ Stijl/ Esprit nouveau, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1966

Yamato Bunkakan Museum, Nara, western art exhibition in Japan, 1966

150 years of Western painting in Japan, Museum of Modern Art, Kanagawa, 1966

Autour du Cubisme, Galerie Jean-Claude Bellier, Paris, 1967

Hirano Museum, Akita, 1967

Saikodo Gallery, Tokyo, 1967

Tribute to Leonardo Foujita, Tokyo City Museum, Kyoto City Museum, 1968

Hirano Museum, Akita, 80 artworks by Foujita from the Masayoshi Hirano collection, 1977

Foujita, centenary of his birth, travelling exhibition in Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, 1986

Léonard Foujita, Musée de Montmartre, Paris, 1987

Léonard Foujita, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 1988-1989

Foujita, Galerie John Sayegh, Paris, 1989

Desnos, Foujita et Youki, un amour surréaliste, Musée du Montparnasse, Paris, 2001

Foujita, le maître de Montparnasse, Palais des Arts, Dinard, 2004

Foujita entre Oriente y Occidente, travelling exhibition in Spain, 2005

Léonard Foujita, traveling exhibition in Japan, 2008

Foujita et ses amis du Montparnasse, Château de Chamerolles, 2010

Foujita et Zadkine, Musée Zadkine, Les Arques (France), 2013

Foujita, Centenary of her arrival in Paris, traveling exhibition in Japan, 2014

Foujita and the great adventure of Montparnasse, Pouchkine Museum, Moscow, 2015

Léonard Foujita and his models, traveling exhibition in Japan, 2016

Foujita-Peindre dans les Années Folles, Musée Maillol, Paris, 2018

Selected bibliography

Selected bibliography

Michel-Gabriel Vaucaire, Foujita, Paris, Éditions G. Crès et Cie, with 32 illustrations, 1925

Paul Morand et Charles-Albert Cingria, Foujita, 6th title of the collection « Les Maîtres nouveaux », Paris, Éditions des Chroniques du jour, 1928

Sylvie et Dominique Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu FOUJITA, Catalogue général de l’œuvre, volume 1, Paris, ACR Éditions, 1987

Lydia Harambourg, L’Ecole De Paris, 1945-1965 : Dictionnaire Des Peintres, Lausanne, Ides et Calendes, 1993

Sylvie Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu FOUJITA, Catalogue général de l’œuvre, volume 2, Paris, ACR Éditions, 2001

Sylvie Buisson, FOUJITA INÉDITS, Catalogue général de l’œuvre, volume 3, Paris, Éditions Fondation Nichido, Archives artistiques À l’encre rouge, 2007

Lydia Harambourg, L’École de Paris, 1945-1965, Dictionnaire des peintres, Ides et Calendes, Neuchâtel, 1993, (update by Clotilde Scordia, Ides et Calendes, Neuchâtel, 2010)

Sylvie Buisson, Anne Le Diberder, Caroline Boivineau and Al., Foujita : Peindre dans les années folles, exhibition catalogue, Brussels, Éditions Fonds Mercator, 2018

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