Tsuguharu Foujita

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Tsuguharu Foujita
Ismael Nery - Retrato de Foujita, déc. 1930.jpg
Portrait of Foujita by Ismael Nery (1930s).
Tsuguharu Fujita

(1886-11-27)27 November 1886
Died29 January 1968(1968-01-29) (aged 81)
EducationTokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music
Known forPainter
Notable work
Book of Cats
Foujita Chapel
School of Paris
Spouse(s)Tomiko Tokita
Fernande Barrey
Lucie Badoul

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (藤田 嗣治, Fujita Tsuguharu, November 27, 1886 – January 29, 1968) was a Japanese–French painter and printmaker born in Tokyo, Japan, who applied Japanese ink techniques to Western style paintings. He has been called "the most important Japanese artist working in the West during the 20th century".[1] His Book of Cats, published in New York by Covici Friede, 1930, with 20 etched plate drawings by Foujita, is one of the top 500 (in price) rare books ever sold, and is ranked by rare book dealers as "the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published".[1][2]

Early life in Japan[edit]

Immediately after graduating secondary school, Foujita wished to study in France, but on the advice of Mori Ōgai (his father's senpai military physician) he decided to study western art in Japan first.[3]

In 1910, when he was twenty-four years old Foujita graduated from what is now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. His paintings during the period before he moved to France were often signed "Fujita", rather than the francized "Foujita" which he later adopted.


Tsuguharu Foujita in his studio

Three years later he went to Montparnasse in Paris, France. When he arrived there, knowing nobody, he met Amedeo Modigliani, Pascin, Chaïm Soutine, and Fernand Léger and became friends with Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Foujita claimed in his memoir that he met Picasso less than a week after his arrival, but a recent biographer, relying on letters Foujita sent to his first wife in Japan, clearly shows that it was several months until he met Picasso.[4] He also took dance lessons from the legendary Isadora Duncan.[5]

Within a few years, particularly after his 1918 exposition, he achieved great fame as a painter of beautiful women and cats in a very original technique. He is one of the few Montparnasse artists who made a great deal of money in his early years. By 1925, Tsuguharu Foujita had received the Belgian Order of Leopold and the French government awarded him the Legion of Honor.[citation needed]

Foujita had his first studio at no. 5 rue Delambre in Montparnasse where he became the envy of everyone when he eventually made enough money to install a bathtub with hot running water. Many models came over to Foujita's place to enjoy this luxury, among them Man Ray's very liberated lover, Kiki, who boldly posed for Foujita in the nude in the outdoor courtyard. Another portrait of Kiki titled "Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy," shows her lying naked against an ivory-white background. It was the sensation of Paris at the Salon d'Automne in 1922, selling for more than 8,000 francs. In 2013, the painting sold at Christie's in New York for $1,205,000.[6]

Ink and watercolor portrait on paper by Foujita.

His life in Montparnasse is documented in several of his works, including the etching A la Rotonde or Café de la Rotonde of 1925/7, part of the Tableaux de Paris series published in 1929.[7]


Foujita's first marriage was to Tomiko Tokita (鴇田登美子, Tokita Tomiko, also called Tomi Tokita), a school teacher in a girls' school in Chiba Prefecture. They were married in 1912, the year before Foujita left for Paris. They divorced in 1916.[3]

In March 1917 in the Café de la Rotonde, Foujita met a young lady by the name of Fernande Barrey.[4] At first, she totally ignored Foujita's efforts to engage her in conversation. However, early the next morning, Foujita showed up at Fernande's place with a blue corsage he had made overnight. Intrigued, she offered him a pot of tea and they were married 13 days later.

In 1918, a trip to the south of France was organized by the Polish poet Léopold Zborowski, who had the idea that his artist-friends could sell pictures there to rich tourists. Foujita and his wife went along as did Soutine, Modigliani with his lover, Jeanne Hébuterne. The trip was not, however, a success and the group had to survive on the advances that Foujita had obtained from his Paris dealer. By the time the final reckoning arrived even those funds had run out, and their landlord, ignoring the offers of pieces of art, confiscated all their baggage in lieu of payment.[citation needed] In 1921, he became involved with Lucie Badoul, whom he called Youki, or "Rose Snow". By 1925, Foujita and his wife Fernande led a very open relationship, both having relations with people of both sexes, but Foujita did not forgive Fernande's affair with his cousin Koyanagi, a painter. In 1925, they divorced, and Lucie Badoul later became Foujita's third wife.[8] This relationship ended when she became the lover, then the wife of the surrealist poet Robert Desnos.

Latin America and Japan, return to France[edit]

After the breakup of his third marriage, and his flight to Brazil in 1931 (with his new love, Mady), Foujita traveled and painted all over Latin America, giving hugely successful exhibitions along the way. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, 60,000 people attended his exhibition, and more than 10,000 queued up for his autograph. In 1932 he contributed a work to the Pax Mundi, a large folio book produced by the League of Nations calling for a prolonged world peace.[7] However, by 1933 he was welcomed back as a minor celebrity to Japan where he stayed and became a noted producer of militaristic propaganda during the war. For example, in 1938 the Imperial Navy Information Office supported his visit to China as an official war artist.[9]

Foujita returned to France after the war. In 1955 he became a French citizen, thereafter renouncing his Japanese citizenship.

Today, Foujita's works can be found in the Bridgestone Museum of Art and in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and more than 100 in the Hirano Masakichi Art Museum in Akita.[10]

After the Second World War, painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi opposed Tsuguharu Foujita's art show at the Kennedy Galleries. Kuniyoshi labelled Foujita a fascist, imperialist, and expansionist.[11]

Last work[edit]

The last house and studio of Foujita in Villiers-le-Bâcle
Foujita Chapel

On his return to France, Foujita converted to Catholicism. He was baptised in Reims Cathedral on 14 October 1959, with René Lalou (the head of the Mumm champagne house) as his godfather and Françoise Taittinger as his godmother. This is reflected in his last major work, at the age of 80, the design, building and decoration of the Foujita Chapel in the gardens of the Mumm champagne house in Reims, France, which he completed in 1966, not long before his death.

Tsuguharu Foujita died of cancer on January 29, 1968, in Zürich, Switzerland and was interred in the Cimetière de Villiers-le-Bâcle, Essonne département, France. In 2003, his coffin was reinterred at the Foujita Chapel under the flagstones in the position he originally intended when constructing the chapel.[12]


On November 27, 2018, a Google Doodle was displayed to celebrate his 132nd birthday.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stephen J. Gertz, Foujita's Great Rare Book of Cats, BookTryst, February 3, 2014
  2. ^ Rare “Book of Cats” Always an Auction Favorite, Fine Books Magazine, February 12, 2014
  3. ^ a b Akita Museum of Art exhibit Leonard Foujita to Paris 1913-1932: Fujita Tsuguharu - Tofutsu 100-shuunen Kinen
  4. ^ a b Poirier, Agnès (2018-04-15). "Back in favour: Japanese master who outshone Picasso in 1920s Paris". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  5. ^ Bohemian Paris: Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and the Birth of Modern Art By Dan Franck Translated by Cynthia Liebow Contributor Cynthia Liebow Published by Grove Press, 2003 ISBN 0-8021-3997-3, ISBN 978-0-8021-3997-9
  6. ^ Christie's Lot Finder, Sale 2790, Lot 443, Nu allongé à la toile de Jouy
  7. ^ a b La vie et l'oeuvre de Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita; Sylvie Buisson, Dominique Buisson, Tsugouharu Foujita; pg. 500, 545, 555, 597 – Published by ACR Edition, 1987 ISBN 2-86770-145-7, ISBN 978-2-86770-145-0
  8. ^ Dictionary of Artists' Models, Jiminez Berk and Joanna Banham, Taylor & Francis, 2001, p. 157
  9. ^ McCloskey, Barbara. (2005). Artists of World War II, p. 117.
  10. ^ "Tsuguharu Foujita - Peyton Wright Gallery". Peyton Wright Gallery. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  11. ^ Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita--the Artist Caught Between EastBy Phyllis Birnbaum page 276
  12. ^ Reims Tourist Office, Foujita Chapel, Dept of Culture, City of Reims
  13. ^ "Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita's 132nd Birthday". google.com. 2018-11-27. Retrieved 2018-11-27.


External links[edit]