Seduced by the roaring twenties of Paris’ Montparnasse, Foujita found himself intoxicated by the excesses of the arts scene. He surrounded himself with poets, artists and intellectuals alike, the latter of whom marvelled at his flamboyance and virtuosic artistry, so much so that art critic Fritz-René Vanderpyl knighted him, ‘Foujita, the lucky Japanese artist who was able to take from the Europeans a colourful and moral vision with which he widens the eastern vision,’ (quoted in Petit Parisien, October 1920, n.p.)
At a time of cross-cultural exchange, Foujita brought boundless Eastern colour to the Parisian School by underpinning his work with a Japanese sense of refinement, evident through the intricate details of his paintings. In turn, Foujita influenced a new wave of admiration for Japanese culture, as the West became fascinated by a country, which for centuries had been isolated from the world. Delicate yet uncommonly strong, Foujita’s sinuous lines, brilliantly typified in Mes Vices, are reminiscent of the traditional Japanese sumi-e (ink brush painting). Mixing watercolour with ink, his interpretation of his prodigal ventures are freely articulated through exquisite strokes, successfully executed through the employment of Japanese materials such as menso (fine brushes). In the artist’s own words, this marriage of Eastern style with Western taste bore a ‘cosmopolitan person with two homelands […] In France, I behave like a Japanese person; I want to live that way in the whole world, that is to say, live in Japan like a cosmopolitan’ (quoted in Sylvie Buisson, ‘Life and work of Tsuguharu-Leonard Foujita’ in Foujita, Entre oriente y occidente (exhibition catalogue), Centro Cultural Bancaja, Valencia & Museu Diocesà de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2005, p. 36).
Pouring his wisdom and experience into his painting, the present work illustrates the introspective aspect of Foujita’s œuvre. In an iconic self-propaganda, he portrays himself in such absurdity, that the message of the work itself appears paradoxical: are his excesses to be praised or condemned? A fitting question at a time when the artist’s overindulgence had entangled him in a web of financial debt and insecurity. It was after all in 1928, at the time of the present work’s execution, that the French government demanded a hefty tax sum from Foujita, crippling his finances such that he saw no further option than to return to Japan, hoping to exhibit his works and make a fortune.
A cautionary tale or the adventures of a flâneur? The message of Mes Vices is far from one-dimensional, still it elucidates Foujita’s free-spiritedness, one which he wished to impart to his friends. Indeed, the present folio boasts a colourful provenance. It was gifted to his friend Chilean illustrator and caricaturist Oscar Fabrès on his 34th birthday, who like Foujita, was part of the artistic crowd that often frequented the Montparnasse scene. Later, the work passed through the hands of Paul Pétridès, the famous Parisian tailor who would become an esteemed art collector and art dealer.
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