PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
“I love Tokyo very much, but being a foreigner in Paris provides me with the distance I require to understand myself” – Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
Christie’s is honored to present a collection of works by the Japanese master Tsuguharu Foujita from a private European collection. Born in Tokyo in 1886, Foujita first arrived in Paris in 1913 and would spend most of his life there. He immersed himself in the artistic scene of the city and was known as a humorous, eccentric character. One day, he presented himself at the Opera wearing a lampshade as a hat, claiming with a deadpan expression that it was his country's national headdress. More importantly, however, Foujita’s careful examination of the art of his Western predecessors and contemporaries, led him to move beyond the academic constraints that had previously been instilled in him. “I, who did not even know the names Cézanne and Van Gogh, now opened my eyes to look out in a radically different direction. I saw that my artistic education up to then had been confined to the artistic styles of one or two people…I suddenly realized that I should forge ahead, with a completely free spirit, to break new ground with my ideas. That day I threw my box of painting materials down on the floor, realizing that I had to start all over again from the beginning” (quoted in P. Birnbaum, Glory in a Line, A Life of Foujita, The Artist Caught Between East and West, New York, 2006, p. 36).
Uncompromising and innovative, Foujita developed a very personal technique which he called le grand fond blanc, which involved the use of a milky white ground in combination with subtle gray tones that give his subjects an almost sculpture-like quality. Furthermore, his use of oil paints mixed with white talcum powder produce a delicate translucent appearance. Chatte et chaton (lot 1270) is a wonderful example of this pioneering method which relied heavily on the artist’s extraordinary abilities as a draughtsman. In 1923, Thiébolt Sisson wrote: “It is the relief without shading of M. Ingres—with whom, indeed, Foujita seems to have as much in common as with his Japanese ancestors—a relief which is suggested, at least in its essentials, merely by the supple arabesques of the lines” (Le Temps, 1 May 1923). Later, the modernist author Paul Morand observed that, “Foujita's mastery of drawing refined lines on a flawlessly ivory white canvas and his depiction of shadow in a non-material form created a pure and mysterious form of art.”
By the 1920s Foujita had achieved critical and commercial success. “The French critics were ecstatic about Foujita’s originality and his combination of Eastern and Western traditions. They were impressed by Foujita’s restrained use of color: in those days artists usually brought countless hues to their paintings, but Foujita made his name on white…At the Salon d’Automne, crowds jockeyed for space in front of Foujita’s works to take in their magical emanations, while artists tried to determine the ingredients that had gone into producing such effects. For this reason, Foujita guarded his recipe for the white color, keeping competitors out of his studio where they might steal his secrets” (P. Birnbaum, op. cit., p. 5).
The present group of works encapsulates Foujita’s mastery of his medium, as well as the joy he found in his subjects. As Sylvie Buisson has written, “To travel in the work of Foujita signifies embarking for Cythera, forgetting the baggage on the banks and penetrating into a world situated half way between the Orient and the Occident, at the fancy of a man in constant renewal and of his soul, perfected with the same dew that baths the leaves of the maple trees in Japan and those of the plane trees in Paris” (Foujita, Inédits, Paris, 2007, p. 16).
(fig. 1) Installation view, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2014.
(fig. 2) Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Portrait de l'artiste, 1926. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.
(fig. 3) The artist sailing around the Americas, circa 1932.
(fig. 4) The artist, circa 1942.