Sylvie Buisson will include this painting in her forthcoming catalogue of the works by Tsuguharu Foujita.
Fillette à la poupée was painted in 1918, a critical year for Foujita during which he began to benefit from commercial success and develop his own unique style. The son of a senior medical officer with the Japanese brigades, Foujita moved around frequently as a child. After his mother's death when the artist was only five years old, he moved in with and was raised by his older sister. From the beginning, Foujita had a penchant for the arts. He was the brightest drawing student at his high school, where one of his gouaches was chosen to be shown at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. This encouraged the budding artist, and was his first remote contact with France. Three years later he began to study French at night school and after completing his studies at university, he left his native Japan in search of a career in Paris.
Upon his arrival in Paris, Foujita went straight to Montparnasse, then the epicenter of artistic activity. He quickly met the many other foreign artists living in Montparnasse: Amedeo Modigliani, Jules Pascin, Chaïm Soutine, Moise Kisling, Ossip Zadkine, Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Archipenko and Louis Marcoussis had all come to Paris within the last ten years. Foujita would socialize with these artists in the famous cafés of Montparnasse, La Rotonde and Le Dôme, where the constant exchange of ideas helped the young artist develop his own art. After six months in Montparnasse, he was introduced to Pablo Picasso, most likely by Diego Rivera, though there are conflicting accounts over this fact. Foujita studied everything in Picasso's studio, and was most struck by the works of Le Douanier Rousseau. Rousseau's simple, naïve style of painting greatly influenced Foujita, and is echoed in his work.
Life was difficult for the young artist for the first few years after his arrival in Paris. He lived, as most of his artist friends, in abject poverty. Unable to afford oil paints, he produced many watercolors, mostly landscapes. Fortuitously, the dealer Georges Chéron took an interest in these watercolors, and gave the artist his first exhibition in June 1917. The show was not a grand success, but Chéron felt encouraged enough to organize a second exhibition in November of the same year, which was met with better results. Despite the small level of renown Foujita was beginning to attain, he found it nearly impossible to make a living out of painting in wartime Paris. Apart from Chéron, who paid Foujita very meagerly, the only other dealer who was interested in his work was Léopold Zborowski. During the summer of 1918 Zborowski took Foujita, along with Soutine and Modigliani, who he was also representing, to Cagnes in the hopes of selling to rich patrons in the south of France. The mission was not successful and the artist returned to Paris broke again, and had to resort to selling his clothes for money. With the end of the war, however, things began to look up for Foujita. He met the Swiss lawyer Henri Seeholzer, who introduced him to future patrons. He began to receive commissions and exhibit with more frequency, soon becoming an infamous presence in the art world.
Also in 1918, Foujita developed a new style, in many ways a cross between Eastern and Western techniques. He began to prepare canvases himself in order to obtain a white, creamy, almost glossy surface upon which he could trace the outlines of his figures with the tip of a very fine brush, evoking the appearance of sumi, a medium which is used in Japanese ink paintings and calligraphy. Indeed, the black lines often remain visible in Foujita's finished pictures, with a thin layer of fluid paint applied evenly so as not to disrupt the painting's surface. The introduction of these Japanese elements in his Western paintings served the artist well. At this time the atmosphere of japonisme still lingered, after artists like Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh had incorporated elements of Japanese culture into their compositions. For Foujita to incorporate such elements into his works, reminded the art world of his exotic origins, while simultaneously linking him to a tradition of venerated artists.
Fillette à la poupée was painted at the height of this development in his oeuvre. A little girl sits stoically, with her arms crossed over a small doll. She stares directly out, confronting the viewer with her gaze. Her large, round eyes invite us into her world, yet simultaneously block us out with their blank expression. This very proper young girl embodies the elegant draftsmanship Foujita was admired for. His fluid style is not overly detailed, but precise--in particular the thin black lines of her nose, eyebrows and the cleft in her upper lip, painted upon creamy white skin; the lines of her body which detach her from the background and give her the impression of a cut out; and lastly her perfect, small, sweet hands which are almost like a doll's themselves. Her upright somberness mimics that of the doll she holds in her arms, and the ribbon in her hair is the same pink as the doll's dress. Perhaps this is a double vision, an image of two small dolls--one human and one toy. Foujita's mastery of the line, combined with his restrained and subtle coloring, reveals a sensitivity which lends an element of extreme beauty to a very humble character.
(fig. 1) Photograph of the artist in Paris, 1927.