LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA | Portrait de Youki
- Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
- Portrait de Youki
- signed in Japanese and English, dated 1928; signed in Japanese on the reverse; dated 1928, signed in English and Japanese on the stretcher
Galerie Colette Weil label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 33 by 24 cm; 13 by 9 ½ in.
Important Private European Collection
Iwaki, Iwaki City Art Museum, Léonard Foujita et ses modèles, 15 April - 28 May 2017
Niigata, The Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Léonard Foujita et ses modèles, 24 June - 3 September 2017
Akita, Akita Museum of Art, Léonard Foujita et ses modèles, 9 September - 12 November 2017
Mizue Nakamura, ed., Léonard Foujita et ses modèles, Kabushiki Kaisha Kyureitāzu, Tokyo, 2016, p. 57
Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was the most dazzling Asian artist of the Paris School of painting of the early twentieth century, and his most famous subjects were cats and female nudes. Foujita had a special love of cats. Cats often appeared in his nudes as well as his self-portraits, and he also made many paintings with cats at play as their focus. In 1930, he collaborated with Michael Joseph to publish Book of Cats, a collection of twenty of Foujita's cat paintings. Today, Book of Cats is one of the five hundred most valuable publications of all time, and it is also the most beloved book of cat paintings ever. Portrait de Youki (Lot 1006) and Deux Petits Chats (Lot 1007), two paintings featured in this evening auction, depict Foujita's two most beloved subjects: nudes and cats.
An Artist and a Cat Lover
Cats play an extremely important role in Japanese culture. Shinto shrines around the country pay homage to cats, and in the lives and hearts of Japanese people, cats are a symbol of family. Cats are also often a motif in the Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut tradition. While Foujita lived abroad, cats offered companionship as well as a cultural connection to his homeland. One night in Paris, Foujita was returning home from a party when he picked up a stray cat; thereafter, he was always collecting strays, and at one point, he had more than a dozen cats in his home. That was when cats began to appear in his paintings, their movements and behaviours seemingly reflecting the artist's own feelings. Therefore it's no exaggeration to say that cats were also Foujita's creative muses.
Deux Petits Chats, painted in 1930, depicts a grey cat along with a white cat with black spots: two cats that also appeared in Foujita's most classic reclining nudes: Nu au Chat and Nu Couché. In terms of composition, Deux Petits Chats takes a different approach to Nu au Chat, painted the same year, but achieves a similar result. Both paintings feature the grey cat in the foreground in an almost identical posture: two eyes staring piercingly at the viewer. But the dreaming woman in the original painting is replaced by a white cat with black spots. The lazy, contented posture of this resting cat reflects its trust in its master's happiness. In comparison, the cat in the foreground gently yet proudly stares into the eyes of the master that loves it. At the same time, its ears are warily attuned to the sounds around it, creating a sense of tension in Deux Petits Chats. This painting expresses Foujita's love for cats and women but also their distrustfulness, depicting contented happiness while also hinting at a sense of insecurity. This aesthetic reflects Foujita's attitude towards women, whom he both adored and felt unsure of. The contrast between the two cats' expressions portrays Foujita's profound and contradictory feelings towards women. It also may subtly allude to Youki's absence: the cats who remained behind with the artist became his valued spiritual vessels.
Portrait of a Goddess
The nude is a theme from Western painting, but Tsuguharu Foujita's nudes combined the posture of Western goddesses with his Eastern aesthetic sensibility. Foujita's lines mimic the thin ink lines of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts combined with Western oil painting. In Eastern aesthetics, the colour white represents exquisite beauty; Foujita uses a milky white-hue for the woman's skin. Foujita mastered his own distinctive palette of oil paints. He rendered the milky-white skin of the woman in the painting with a flawless texture that invokes the powered faces of geishas and expresses a mysterious and graceful Eastern ambience. The woman's skin in Portrait de Youki is as bright and white as snow; her hair is glossy and elegant. Youki is outlined in simple lines that express the gentleness and elegance of the East while also containing a non-Eastern, exotic tone. Foujita reinterpreted Western beauty from an Eastern perspective in a unique painting style that shocked all of Paris.
The Musée Maillol in Paris will host an exhibition of Tsuguharu Foujita's work this year from 7 March to 15 July: LES ANNÉES FOLLES 1913-1931. The artist's works from this period have performed very well on the auction market, such as Nu au Chat (1930), which sold for 39,400,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Auction in 2016, setting an auction record in Asia for Foujita. Both the market and academic circles have highly prized Foujita's work from this period. In particular, the development of the artist's nude series during the years from 1921 to 1931 has received the most attention. Youki was Foujita's primary muse, goddess, and model during this period. After meeting in 1923, they fell in love and married, only to separate in 1931. Youki provided Foujita with abundant inspiration, and the artist often invoked her by name as a theme in his art. Youki, Goddess of Snow, painted one year after they met, was selected for the Salon d’Automne , and eventually ended up in the collection of the Musee du Petit Palais in Geneva. For Portrait de Youki, Foujita combined the simplest of lines with his distinctive milky-white hue of paint, expressing for us the perfect Youki of the artist's heart. In 2017, this painting was the only “Youki” painting among more than one hundred works by Foujita to be included in the Japanese traveling exhibition Tsuguharu Foujita and His Models, demonstrating the preciousness of Portrait de Youki.