Japanese-French, November 27, 1886–January 29, 1968
"My body matured in Japan, but my painting matured in France." Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was a Japanese-French painter and printmaker born in Tokyo, Japan who is known for his application of Japanese ink techniques to Western style paintings. He has been called the most important Japanese artist who worked in the West during the 20th century. His Book of Cats (1930), published in New York by Covici Friede, with twenty etched plate drawings by Foujita, is one of the top 500 (in price) rare books ever sold, and is ranked by rare book dealers as "the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published."

Foujita had a strong desire to study in France immediately after graduating secondary school, however, on the advice of a friend of his father, he stayed to study western art in Japan. In 1910, at the age of 24, Foujita graduated from what is now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

 

Three years after his graduation, Foujita finally fulfilled his dream of moving to France and settled in Montparnasse in Paris. He arrived there knowing nobody but soon met Amedeo Modigliani, Pascin, Chaim Soutine, and Fernand Léger. He became friends with Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He also took dance lessons from the legendary Isadora Duncan.

Fujita's studio in Montparnasse was modern and included a large bathtub and hot running water. It was visited by many models who came over to enjoy this luxury. Among the frequent visitors was Man Ray's very liberated lover, Kiki, who boldly posed for Foujita in the nude in the outdoor courtyard. Another portrait of Kiki, Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy, shows her lying naked against an ivory-white background. It was the sensation of Paris at the Salon d'Automne in 1922, selling for more than 8,000 francs. In 2013, the painting sold at Christie's in New York for $1,205,000.. His life in Montparnasse is documented in several of his works, including the etching, À la Rotonde or Café de la Rotonde of 1925-7, part of the Tableaux de Paris series published in 1929.

Fujita achieved great fame as a painter of beautiful women and cats in a very innovative fashion. He is one of the few Montparnasse artists who made a great deal of money in his early years. By 1925, Foujita had received the Belgian Order of Leopold and the Legion of Honor from the French government.

 

In 1931, Foujita flew to Brazil and traveled and painted all over Latin America, giving hugely successful exhibitions along the way. In 1932, he contributed a piece to the Pax Mundi, a large folio book produced by the League of Nations calling for a prolonged world peace. By 1933, Fujita was welcomed back as a minor celebrity in Japan where he stayed and became a noted producer of militaristic propaganda during the war. In 1938, the Imperial Navy Information Office supported his visit to China as an official war artist.

 

After the war, Foujita left Japan. Today, his works can be found in the Bridgestone Museum of Art and in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and in the Hirano Masakichi Art Museum in Akita.

His final major work was done at the age of 81. Foujita worked on the design, building and decoration of the Foujita Chapel in the gardens of the Mumm Champagne house in Reims, France, which he completed in 1966.


Tsuguharu Foujita died of cancer on January 29, 1968, in Zürich, Switzerland.

 

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