(Japanese, 1893-1962)
Woman in Chemise
oil on canvas
79 x 127.5 cm. (31 1/8 x 50 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1925-1928
Zenaburo Kojima Executive Committee, One Hundred Year Anniversary Zenaburo Kojima Exhibition, exh. cat., Japan, 1993 (illustrated, p. 67).
The Shoto Museum of Art, KOJIMA Zenzaburo, Creator of the Japanese Oil Painting, Tokyo, Japan, 1998 (illustrated, p. 50).
Committee to Publish Works of Zenzaburo Kojima c/o Gallery Kojima, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Painting Works of Zenzaburo Kojima, Tokyo, Japan, 2012 (illustrated, plate 141, p. 20).

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Lot Essay

Japanese may have a unique sense of beauty deriving from their ethnic background, tradition and geography, but special techniques are necessary to express the beauty of this climate and temperament.
Zenzaburo Kojima

Woman in Chemise (Lot 17) was painted during Kojima's stay in Europe from 1925 to 1928. It demonstrates Kojima's exploration among various approaches towards establishing his personal style. While taking reference from such classical Japanese art as the Rimpa and Nanga schools, Kojima gradually turned to a more ornamental and stylistic approach. Kojima left for France at a time when various styles were appearing, including Fauvism, Cubism, Modernism, Dadaism and Surrealism, and much information on these styles was reaching Japanese art circles. He studied the basics of oil painting in France, and in 1930 parted ways with the Nikakai circle he previously belong to, and participated in the formation of the Independent Art Association, in which Kojima was determined to establish a style of oil painting distinctive to Japan.

Kojima spent three years in Europe, but did not try to absorb all the new elements into his work; instead he concentrated on studying the basics. He felt he should first establish foundations, and then develope his personal style. Kojima turned his back on the artistic trends of his time, focused on studying such classics as Greek art and the Italian Renaissance, and devoted himself to learning elements at which Japanese are considered less important, namely a strict grasp of forms and the expression of solids and volume. During his studies abroad, Kojima devoted his efforts to learning the basics of painting, and through his visits to museums and travel in Italy he was drawn to classical and Renaissance painting. Kojima's profound fascination with Classical and Renaissance art and their exquisite techniques led him to achieve strongly modern forms through simplified masses and colours within a classical beauty of symmetry.

In Woman in Chemise, the woman is thinly clad, a rarity for Kojima's female portraits. Unlike most nudes portraits, this directs the attention to the shape of the legs and the expression of the face. In Kojima's female figures, the positions of the hands are always treated with elegance. In his full-length portraits, the hands are always placed near the head, whether the model is standing or reclining. This was Kojima's technique for achieving a balance between the body and the overall space of the painting. In this painting, the background is divided into two sections through an almost straight horizontal line, with a dark red bedspread below and a navy blue wall above. The reclining woman's body describes a soft curve extending from the upper left to the lower right. Her right hand is lifted to her head, thereby achieving a balance between the large space in the upper right and the smaller space in the lower left.

The composition serving as the basis for the woman can be seen in the Venus of Urbino by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (circa 1488-1576) (Fig. 1). Kojima gives the woman's beautiful blue eyes and face a faithful, warm expression. Her red cheeks are quite distinctive. It is clear that Kojima has taken much inspiration from Titian's Venus for the shape of the legs. For the colours, a very strong red reminiscent of Fauvism is used for the sheets, while a dark navy blue is chosen intentionally for the wall. While Kojima's sense of colour is often compared to Fauvism, he himself felt his colours to be the result of a quest for his own personal style. Kojima's colours closely resemble those of Edo period ukiyo-e artist Harunobu Suzuki. Suzukiis known as the 'colourist of Edo', he developed the nishiki-e technique of ukiyo-e in the Edo period, and was the first artist to introduce full colours into ukiyo-e (Fig. 2). There is no doubt that Kojima always wished to incorporate a sense of colour loved by the Japanese in the past into uniquely Japanese oil paintings. Produced during his stay in Europe, this piece is an important work that established the foundations for Kojima's future style. It is very clear in this piece that during his stay in Europe, while Kojima absorbed many aspects of 16th Century paintings, such as composition, the polarity of bodies and the texture of skin, Kojima has also introduced the sense of colour of Fauvism and Ukiyo-e, combined with a number of other elements as he explored and expressed his unique artistic style. This unique mixed of Western and Asian artistic style has established Kojima as one of the 20th-century masters in Modern Japanese art history.

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