The arrival of the 1930s marked the end of the halcyon days that had followed WWI. Dramatic changes were occurring in economies around the world, and those artists who had come to Paris in earlier years, in pursuit of their dreams, were now facing futures rife with uncertainty. Foujita, a Japanese artist and one of the symbolic figures of the early 20th century Montparnasse art circle, was no different. Confronted by various constraints upon his craft, Foujita departed from France, a country that had been his home for over a decade. It was time, he had decided, to seek inspiration elsewhere. And so, beginning in 1931 and accompanied by his partner Madeleine Lequeux, Foujita began travelling around the world, visiting the contiguous United States, Hawaii, China, and various countries in Latin America. In 1933, the artist landed in Mexico, his final destination, and there he stayed for seven months. Foujita spent his time in Mexico observing and studying the murals that covered the walls all around the cities, murals that belonged to the Mexican Muralist Movement. These included the works of Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), whose artistic creations left Foujita utterly awestruck. The style of Mexican Muralism was magnanimous in spirit, and through these painted images that possessed great visual splendour, Mexican artists created a narrative for the history of their country, using images to arouse a sense of national consciousness. Each gorgeously vivid and powerful masterpiece was not simply a decorative object for the public space where it resided; more importantly, it served to communicate the country’s history, as well as a sense of political and national identity. This bright and bold artistic language swept across Latin America and even surged into the world of American mainstream art, marking a glorious chapter in the annals of modern art history. Day after day, Foujita feasted his eyes upon these very murals. It was an experience that led him to abandon the nude paintings he had created in the style of the Paris School, artworks that had won him considerable esteem. His palette, previously limited to creams and shades of black and white, now expanded to include brighter and richer tones. And within these vivid and colourful compositions, Foujita added elements of narrative. It was this experience that determined the creative direction of Foujita’s career for the next few years. The artist’s journey to Latin America, then, can be considered the wellspring from which his mural pieces emerged in the 1930s, including Printemps (Lot 1037).
In 1934, after three years, Foujita finally concluded his travels around the world. His encounters with foreign locations and cultures bestowed the artist with a rich reserve of inspiration. In the years preceding WWII (1934-1937), Foujita accepted rare commissions from Japanese corporations, allowing him to create the few large-scale murals of his career. Their grandeur and brilliant composition are evocative of epic poetry, and these works elevated his craft to a new level. According to existing records, Foujita accepted three projects for large-scale murals, and through these pieces, he had hoped to bring what he saw around the world back to the Japanese, so that they, too, could appreciate the beauty of wall murals. In 1935, Foujita accepted a commission for Osaka’s Shinsaibashi branch of SOGO Department Store. The completed mural, Printemps, was displayed in the restaurant on the 6th floor of the department store. It quickly rose to fame as an iconic image. Four years later, however, disaster struck. SOGO department store suffered a big fire, and the raging flames partially damaged the mural. The salvaged portion of the mural was removed and acquired into the private collection of Togo Murano (1891-1984), renowned architect and designer of the SOGO department store. In the 1980s, the piece was on loan to the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa in Tokyo, and displayed in the hotel’s main bar, Asama. This hotel was also designed by Murano. It was not until 2016, then, for an exhibition in Kobe, that Printemps was displayed in a truly public manner. Finally, after vanishing for 77 years, the public was allowed to re-encounter this important representative work. Foujita’s mural pieces from the 1930s have largely been acquired into the permanent collections of public or private institutions. For this museum-quality work to be made available at auction is indeed a rare opportunity.
Although Printemps is a mural, in creating it, Foujita did not apply paint directly to the walls. Rather, he used a canvas that was measured for the specific dimensions of the space. This was an adaptive and modern breakthrough in the mural form. The artist’s ambition at the time was to create an intimate union between the mural’s composition and its environment, creating a scene that was boundless, and continued beyond the dimensions of the artwork, thus animating the atmosphere of its surrounding space. Originally displayed within the Western-style restaurant at SOGO Department Store, Printemps depicts a bucolic scene of a beautiful spring day. Within the lush grass is a picture of domestic bliss, watched over by the angels, an atmosphere of joy and contentment drifting from the painting into the restaurant. Foujita, who by then had worked within the Paris art circle for over twenty years, was abundantly experienced in depicting the appearance and elegant comportment of European figures. In the 1930s, Foujita turned decisively away from the style in which he had portrayed contemporary European subjects in the previous decade, which were marked by silhouettes formed with slender lines and pure colour tones. In creating Printemps, one can see that Foujita’s painting style had already begun to evolve. The artist’s mood manifests in the painting’s depiction of luxuriant light, falling across the canvas, brimming with magnificent colour. Further, the people depicted in the scenes are rendered in a 1:1 ratio, and the clever composition is such that the characters in the foreground seem to leap into the viewer’s sight, while the simpler background leaves space for the viewers to immerse themselves within the fictional scene, to revel in the mood of the serene spring day. Although the canvas is large and expansive, the brushstrokes retain their delicacy, a testament to Foujita’s technical facility in maintaining control of the scene, achieving a state of complete balance and harmony in every aspect of the composition. Unlike the Mexican murals, charged with political connotation, Foujita’s style leans toward elegance, his subject containing the stylistic traces of Japanese paintings, chiming in particular with the Kano School’s highly accomplished indoor screen paintings. Printemps was undoubtedly a stylistic breakthrough for Foujita during the 1930s. Created soon after the artist had concluded his first Paris period, this mural was a gathering of all the fruits of his deep study of aesthetics, ancient and contemporary, Eastern and foreign. It was through this creative siphon that the artist’s singular “soft revolution” was born.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale