Who was really Foujita, a great Japanese painter to whom Google pays homage? – Go out Grand Paris – Télérama.fr

© Foujita Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2018 Photo: © Artistic Archive

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Self-portrait with the cat. (1927)

Housed in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, the elegant Tsuguharu Foujita had developed a unique style, painting in black and white with a fine brush.

On August 6, 1913, an elegant young Japanese man of 27 years of age arrived in Paris, in the Montparnasse district, who was predicted, according to him, to be the first painter in Japan, but who intended to ” become the first painter of Paris “. Scarcely arrived, Tsuguharu Foujita meets the Chilean painter Manuel Ortiz de Zárate at the terrace of a café, which leads him to the studio of Pablo Picasso …

Foujita (1886-1968) does not come from nowhere. His father, Tsugakira Fujita, a general of the imperial army, a doctor, open to progressive ideas and to the West, awakened his son to sciences, literature, the world. He does not oppose his early vocation, buys him colors, decrees him painter of the family. At the age of 4, the boy loses his mother – he will remember it with a cold hand, a kimono and a white screen. At the age of 14, he sees one of his drawings selected for the Universal Exhibition of Paris.

At 17, he took French lessons at the Morning Star, a school that had just been created by Marianist brothers. His idea is to follow an artistic education in France, but his father wants him to first integrate the School of Fine Arts in Tokyo. Three years later, the general will agree to finance a study trip to Paris. Tsuguharu’s young fiancée refuses to follow him, thinking that the stay will be short-lived …

Copyist at the Louvre Museum

Foujita (he added an o to his name, probably to be pronounced correctly) is one of the last artists to win Montparnasse. Too old to enroll in the Beaux-Arts, he takes a copyist’s card in the Louvre, surveys the rooms, eager to discover everything, including the ancient art, which he enjoys the hieraticism and stylization. He is especially absorbed by the atmosphere of the city, drawing in cafes. “He becomes aware very quickly, writes Anne Le Diberder, director of the house-workshop Foujita , that he must rethink not only his painting, but also his culture, and shape a future be broken, or in conciliation . It will be conciliation … And the practice of hybridization, says Sylvie Buisson, publisher of the general catalog of Foujita’s work: “No other Japanese artist before him has dared to transgress the conventions of his country. The precious Nishiki-e prints are as enchanting as the Madonnas of Gothic and Renaissance . “In the construction of this artistic identity, the self-portrait will occupy a prominent place. “He is staged in his work, but also in his life, at the risk of being caught in his own game and being virtually shut up, ” continues Anne Le Diberder. Because he very quickly understood the modern springs of the celebrity. He knows that work and talent are not enough. It must be displayed on the terraces of cafes, in parties, in galleries and workshops. Towards the end of the war, he found his “mouth”, adopting his famous haircut to the “dog”, which is already worth signing, carries jewels, tattoos and sophisticated clothes.

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Jeune couple et animaux. (1917)

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Young couple and animals. (1917)

© Foujita Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2018 Photo: © Artistic Archive

In March 1917, he met Fernande Barrey, a cheeky and passionate artist, whom he married two weeks later. He moved to 5, rue Delambre where he stayed until 1924. On June 1, he exhibited for the first time a hundred works, watercolors, the gallery Georges Chéron, merchant Modigliani and Soutine. It’s a triumph. Picasso comes from the first day, and stays several hours. Cheron asks him to produce two watercolors a day. This is good, “the masterpiece only rarely occurs,” Foujita said “have taken the firm resolve to try to leave thousands of works.” At the reopening of the Grand Palais in the spring of 1919, and especially at the Salon d’Automne, he exhibited among the great French painting.

Youki, his new muse

At the dawn of the 1920s, Paris wants to forget the Great War and does not want to see the perils rising. The Montparnos live an unprecedented euphoria. Lucie Badoud was not 20 years old when Foujita approached her at the Rotonde in 1922. On the day of her birthday, he offered her a convertible whose radiator cap is a Rodin bronze. Its whiteness of skin inspires to Foujita a name: Youki, “snow” in Japanese. She becomes her favorite model, he never stops to observe it, to portray it, to fix it on film. She inspires her most beautiful nudes.


Sylvie Buisson describes an amazing creative process: Foujita impregnates herself with the pose, prepares a preparatory drawing, without repentance. On the canvas, in his absence, the model “is reduced to his soul, to a network of lines of extreme sensitivity, bearers of life”. Because, at home, the essence of the model is in the line: “The trait is alive. And the interval that settles in between, the emptiness that the lines create between them, is an element constituting the line and the work. This is the ma , aesthetic concept that has governed Japanese art since forever, to which Foujita never derogates . Desiring to “represent the quality of the most beautiful material of all, that of the human skin,” he has instead appropriated a genre, the nude, absent from Japanese painting.

His technique on canvas – Foujita now painted in oil – is unique: “Most artists, like Matisse, Braque, painted with a wide brush. Unlike them, I started to paint with a fine brush. Everyone used a lot of beautiful colors. But I tried to paint lightly, and in black and white, ” he said later. His studio is a solitary work space: “Jealous of its secrets, especially its white background, it leaves few people approach, ” says Anne Le Diberder. It ends up knowing that it applies in glaze a mixture of linseed oil, white lead or Meudon and magnesium silicate, a technique unpublished in the West, which confers on its material a rare opalescence. He works his funds last, surrounding the line with a gray halo that brings out and vibrate the bodies.

Painter and dandy

Figure of Montparnasse nights, photographed in 1927 with his cat by the great Austrian portraitist Dora Kallmus, Foujita sees ” gradually, in the eyes of the public, critics and the artistic community, the image of dandy take precedence over his paintings. ” Says Anne Le Diberder, pointing out a real misunderstanding: because Foujita is a” total artist “, who never stops working. He says he sleeps only five hours, thanks to the dry climate of Paris. In his studio in the Rue Delambre, then in the beautiful house that he offers himself at Montsouris square, he makes his costumes, creates his dishes, films and photographs, and this work is at the service of his painting. The Roaring Twenties, of course, are not so crazy as this: his distressing Lupanar in Montparnasse is haunted by the morbid figure of the mother-maquerelle, and it is not known whether his intellectuals at the Rotunda are inhabited by thought or by the empty. Through her repeated self-portraits, Foujita casts her strangely impassive, indecipherable gaze on this world.

Strange goodbyes to France

He sees Youki, a free woman, become, while playing his role of muse, the mistress of his friend, Robert Desnos. The last thirty-five years of his life are strange, and his trajectory may seem erratic. On October 31, 1931, he embarked for Rio de Janeiro with a young dancer and model, Madeleine Lequeux. Because his orders became scarce, because of the crisis, and he underwent a major tax adjustment. He writes a farewell message to his friend Robert Desnos, telling him youki, his wife, to whom he gives up all his paintings! During two years, he will find in Latin America a new artistic breath, before returning to the native country in the autumn of 1933, to make a short French incursion on the eve of the war, forced to join Japan where he becomes a painter of war…

But the call of France is the strongest. He returned to Paris in January 1950 where he relaunched his career and bought, ten years later, a house in ruins in Villiers-le-Bâcle, a small village in Essonne, which he will imagine and design every detail, up to to make many objects himself. He lives there with his last wife, Kimiyo, a mystical and artistic retreat, and realizes the model of the future chapel Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, which, converted to Catholicism, he undertakes to build in Reims. In Zurich, on January 29, 1968, died at the age of 81 Tsuguharu Foujita – sorry, Leonard, baptismal name he chooses in honor of Leonardo da Vinci …