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Nu de dos (Nude from the Back)

Nu de dos (Nude from the Back)
signed in Japanese, signed and dated ‘Foujita 1924’ (lower left); signed in Japanese and signed ‘Foujita’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
64.7 x 54 cm. (25 1/2 x 21 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1924
Private Collection, Belgium
Private Collection, Belgium (acquired in the 1990s)
Thence by descent to the present owners

The work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

"To paint nudes […] with the clear objective of depicting the quality of the most beautiful material that can be: that of human skin." – Foujita, “17 years in France”, in Album of Tsuguharu Foujita , Tokyo, Asahi Shimbun Sha, 1929.

In the soft light of dawn, a milky-skinned Venus emerges from bed, looks out the window to the tranquil ocean and delicately slips her fingers into her dishevelled hair to fashion a braid. It is the year 1924 : Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita met Lucie Badoul a few months ago with whom he has fallen passionately in love at first sight. It is said that when he met her, he disappeared from the Montparnasse district in Paris for three days, imaginably tucked away in this very room depicted in Nude from the Back. As an extravagant and outstanding figure of the Parisian cultural scene, his absence did not go unnoticed. His friends feared that he was wallowing in sorrow following his separation with his second wife and painter Fernande Barrey. He was in fact basking in joy with his fair-skinned beloved that he would tenderly nickname “Youki” (meaning “snow” in Japanese). The romantic meeting opened a new era in his artistic and personal journey as she became his wife and muse. For the next decade or so, he would elect Youki as his preferred model, painting her in his studio from all angles, always seeking to capture her light.

The present painting stands out as one of the rare depictions of Youki before she cut her hair short, as it was the fashion in France in the 1920s, the “Annees Folles” (“the Crazy Years” in French). Her rich auburn mane cascades into long streaks on her plain snowy back creating a strong visual contrast. But probably the most striking feature of this unique painting is the subject of the window opening to the ocean. One year prior, Foujita painted an almost identical work titled Nu a la tresse, depicting Youki in the same position standing in front of a window, with curtains drawn, but no landscape in the background. Foujita was known to trace his works over and over again from paper to canvas until he found the perfect outcome. This final work was made to his utmost satisfaction to the point that he never painted another nude in front of the ocean.

Referencing Henri Matisse’s iconic paintings of windows, Foujita exploits the window’s intrinsic duality as both an opening and a barrier to generate a tension between illusionistic depth and modernist flatness. The distant ocean is rendered in an almost naive style with oversimplified waves, compressing the infinite landscape into the window’s plane. Joining the outer world and the inner sphere of the human presence, Foujita affirms his virtuosic grasp of Western Modernity.

Framing the painting, the soft lines of the open curtains echo the contrapposto stance of the figure, where the weight is shifted to one side, bringing the shoulders and hips to opposing tilts. This posture which emerged in ancient Greece suggests a relaxed attitude with subtle movement that denotes life. Influenced by Classical Western art, Foujita eschews the traditional precision of classicism and presents instead a looser, more fluid and expressive technique of painting the female figure. Indeed, the depiction of the body is not anatomically perfect, with a left shoulder too short and the arms too long, but accurate skeletal detail is replaced with a greater desire to express sensuousness and a cohesive composition.

The sensuality and sense of display in this work is reminiscent of the French 19th century painter Jean Auguste Ingres, who also drew the voluptuous female bodies by distorting their anatomy. Nudes depicted from the back are extremely rare in Foujita’s repertoire and it is quite possible that he drew his inspiration from Ingres’ masterpiece hanging at the Louvre, La Grande Baigneuse. Painting Youki looking into the distance as she would be looking to the future, Foujita paints an enamoured subject hopeful of a radiant future. As she later wrote in her memoirs, “In 1924, life was easy, business flourishing and Foujita started to be known. We were in love with each other, we were good, and kind and happy of everything”.

The present painting is evidence of Foujita’s ability to depict a resolutely modern female figure. Unique for its subject of a nude from the back facing a window opening to the infinite ocean, this work is a charming testament to his burgeoning passion for his muse Youki, filled with hope and promise.

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