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Impressionist & Modern Art

Tsuguharu Foujita: Japan in Montparnasse

Painted between 1917 and 1924, these eight works gathered together by the refined gaze of Ginette and Alain Lesieutre, and which feature in the sale in Paris on 29 June, testify to Foujita’s belle époque in Montparnasse where he arrived in 1913.

Upon arriving from Tokyo, it is said that the very next day he threw himself into Picasso’s studio and into the heart of the bubbling School of Paris. His neighbours were Modigliani, Soutine, Gris, Léger, Matisse… and they became his friends. In 1917, the date of the four works from the collection, Foujita had recently returned from London where he had stayed during the war. In Paris, he signed a contract with Chéron, Modigliani’s dealer, who offered him his first one-man show.

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TSUGUHARU FOUJITA, REVERIE AUX COLOMBES, 1917, WATERCOLOUR AND INK ON PAPER. ESTIMATE €30,000-40,000

Considered by the French as a representative of Japonism, cultivated by the Goncourt into a legendary vision since the end of the 19th century, the 110 watercolours on show were admired by Picasso. Beyond the canons of Japanese secular aesthetics, these works (it is probable that Rêverie aux colombes, lot 15, figured in this exhibition) testify to the break with modern painting inaugurated by the Cubist revolution and pre-renaissance art. In reference to the art of engraving, the black, supple contours and the use of local colour (rather than colour as it is reflected by light) combine and merge with an architecture of flat planes endorsed by Cubism and a deliberately archaic gracefulness.

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TSUGUHARU FOUJITA, FEMME AU MIROIR, 1922, WATERCOLOUR AND GOLD LEAF ON PAPER. ESTIMATE €35,000-45,000

Foujita’s primitivism is touched with Pre-Raphaelite traces, in the chronological sense of the term. In 1918, just before the Armistice, Fouijita left for Villeneuve-les-Avignon. The background of these works, which are either gold or monochrome, of radiant or muted tints (the large white backgrounds appear in 1921), call to mind Enguerrand Quarton’s Pietà painted in 1455 in the context of the Avignon School. This can be taken even further, to the fringes of gothic art, as paintings from the Sienna School and the Florence School under the tutelary of Giotto are not unlike the hieratic elegance of Foujita’s women. Profane, surrounded by doves, holding a mirror or flowers in her hand, the woman radiates in a halo of divine and silent aura. This diffuse spirituality is present in the essentially religious subjects such as the Prayer (lot 20) and Virgin and Child (lot 22): “The virgin and child remains a recurring theme, inspired by the Florentine and Sienna Renaissance Madonnas from Raphaël to Vinci. They are also as close to the synthetism of Brancusi and of Modigliani as to that of Utamaro in the shaping of form and the purity of line. The use of gold leaf is common to both Western and Oriental cultures.” (Foujita, Le Maître japonais de Montparnasse, 2004, p. 184).

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TSUGUHARU FOUJITA, VIERGE A L’ENFANT, VERS 1918, GOUACHE AND GOLD LEAF ON PAPER. ESTIMATE €35,000-45,000

In the 1950s, this religious feeling became the intense and essential concern of his iconography. The Montparnasse years, which came to an end in 1929 with the return to Japan and a period of travelling, were marked by Foujita’s love and fascination with Youki. He met Lucie Badou nicknamed “Snow” in Japanese in 1923 at La Rotonde, and she would be his muse until 1931 when she fell in love with Robert Desnos. The owner of Rêverie aux colombes (lot 15), Youki was the model for the artist’s most beautiful nudes, between idealized profiles and graceful madonnas, Youki would reveal the latent sensuality of Foujita’s art.

The Ginette et Alain Lesieutre, Collection Privée sale is in Paris on 29 June.

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