Foujita's distinguished style led to his first solo exhibition in 1917 at the Galerie Cheron, where Foujita chose not to exhibit oils, but rather watercolors that featured such traditional Japanese media as fine brushes and inks. All 110 of the works in the exhibition were sold over the course of the show. By the 1921 Salon d’Automne, Foujita had established himself as an important artist in Paris, and the three works he submitted were acclaimed highlights of the exhibition. Foujita’s favorable reputation led to many mural and portrait commissions, which he completed in his signature style (see fig. 4). By the early 1930s, Foujita’s trademark white backgrounds and the soft tones that he developed to silhouette and define his figures gave way to a richer palette of colors, perhaps as a result of his 1932 sojourn to Latin America, taken largely to evade French taxes. Over the course of his travels, Foujita was exposed to the heroic and often religious paintings of Brazilian, Argentine and Mexican modernists, and their use of exaggerated proportions and incorporation of political undertones. Particularly struck by the work of Diego Rivera, Foujita's adoption of a more vibrant palette led to a maturation in his practice, combining the colors of Renaissance painting with the flatness of Japanese ukiyo-e.
While executed almost thirty years later the present work is a testament to the resounding influence of Foujita's time in Latin America. A striking woman is gracefully accentuated by a diaphanous fabric reminiscent of the one the Duchess of Alba wears in Goya’s famed portrait (see fig. 5). The three-quarter length composition work harkens back to classical portraiture of women of stature, whose detached gaze averts away from the viewer. Yet with her alluring gossamer dress and her animated hands, the subject of the present work is thoroughly modern in her engagement with the viewer and her unmistakable intellectual sentience.
Returning to Japan in 1933, Foujita became the official painter for the Imperial Army, producing various propaganda materials over the course of the War. In 1950, with the assistance of General MacArthur, Foujita returned to Paris with his wife, Kimiyo, who presumably serves as the sitter in the present work. After settling in the Montparnasse section of Paris, Foujita finally secured French citizenship in 1955, and both he and Kimyo converted to Catholicism. Through this process, he choose the baptismal name of Léonard as a tribute to his idol, the Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci.
Subsequently adopting many of the same motifs as Leonardo, Foujita strove to demonstrate his personal style in spirit and in form to match the brilliance of Leonardo's work (see fig. 6). Emphasizing the Christian focus on constantly augmenting the relationship between man and God, Foujita fixated upon the embodiment of the woman in the Virgin and how they transmogrified into one. This conceptualization is clearly apparent in Femme à la dentelle. The present work hung proudly in the artist’s studio and after Foujita’s death became a cherished part of Kimyo’s collection (see fig. 1).
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