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Nu sur un lit, avec un chien (Reclining Nude with A Small Dog)

Nu sur un lit, avec un chien (Reclining Nude with A Small Dog)
signed in Japanese, signed and dated ‘Foujita 1921’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
89 x 116 cm (35 x 45 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1921
Private collection
Anon. Sale, Sotheby & Co., New York, 15 April 1970, lot 71
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson.
S. Buisson, Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Paris, 2001, (illustrated, plate 21.13, p.182).
Sale room notice
Please note that lot 135 is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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

Long slender arms delicately raised above her head with a comb running through her hair, a young woman lays in bed with her gaze fixed directly towards her onlookers. Reminiscent of Manet’s infamous painting Olympia (1863), Foujita’s Nu sur un lit, avec un chien (1921) is equally daring. This nude portrait scene teases out the free and uninhibited beauty of his sitter. According to Sylvie Buisson, expert on Foujita, the model is Mimina, whose full name is Demetra Messala. Daughter of a Greek diplomat in Paris, first wife of famed sculptor Arno Breker and model for other famous artists of Foujita’s milieu at that time, Messala was around nineteen around the time of this painting. From the languid sweetness of her pose to delicate lustre and refined colour palette of the painting, this work is a masterful representation of the golden years of 1920’s Paris, and is a sublime example of the nude subject genre.

Painted almost a decade after Foujita left Tokyo and settled in Paris, this work comes at a time when the artist was clearly influenced by a blend of Japanese and European artistic traditions. The nude had become a symbol for representing artistic growth and rebirth, and many artists invested significant energy into the genre, including Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse, with whom Foujita was well acquainted with. Despite working on a subject chosen by numerous Western artists since antiquity, Foujita retained much of his Japanese nihonga-style training and visual aesthetic. The current painting’s composition follows the lines of a classical female nude. Though the subtle application of colour, which borrows from Japan's traditional ukiyo-e paintings, Foujita softens the contrasts of light, shadow within separate planes, whilst enhancing colour contrasts at the centre of the painting, using the deep black background to set off his subject's lighter skin colour. Given these contrasts, Mimina’s skin tone is flawlessly white and emits an aura of purity.

From the 1920s to early 1930s, Foujita created a series of female nudes that reflected the traditional Japanese ideals of beauty. The traditional geisha in Japan applied white makeup from the neck up, and in Japan's ukiyo-e paintings, white is almost universally used to depict women's skin. Foujita himself has also commented that“(o)ur forerunners, master painters such as Suzuki Harunobu and Kitagawa Utamaro, depicted women with this kind of skin. Being Japanese myself, I naturally follow in their footsteps in the way I portray a woman's complexion.” Although basing his practice in these traditions, Foujita also introduced an innovation in his artistic practice. The artist first spread a layer of powdered talc on the canvas, making it more amenable to laying down colour, then added powdered mother-of-pearl to his oil pigments. As a result, his model’s skin acquired a silky, lustrous glow. He further made use of traditional Japanese implements, in the form of the fine menso brush, to outline the contours of his figures. This produced finer textures than ever previously seen in traditional oil paintings, and a kind of semitransparent sheen, all with distinct Japanese overtones.

Foujita worked in this “milky white” style for a decade before he decided to leave Paris in 1931 and attempt a different artistic style. Nu sur un lit, avec un chien is one of the earliest nude oil portraits painted by the artist in this style and features a reclining pose and furry creature. Thus, making the present painting an early work from the artist’s celebrated “milky white” reclining nude series. Foujita was able to participate in one of the most important chapters of early-twentieth century modern art history and develop unprecedented and ground-breaking nude paintings that diverged from the conventional traditions of the salon and the academy. His nudes were exquisite, finely detailed and projected an impression of purity and reserve.

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