Tsuguharu Foujita

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I first learned of the Japanese interest in impressionism when I attended an art exhibition of Japanese painters in New York. I was taken by the way these Japanese trained painters were able to capture the essence of the art of the French 1920s and the style and brushwork of France. It was like looking at Cézannes but the artists were from far away Japan. My interest grew and I discovered that there was a small invasion from Japan during the years after WWI. One of the most successful people who came and settled in Paris was Tsuguharu Foujita a member of the Samurai Class of Japan, born in 1886 in Tokyo. He had been painting and studying since we was very young and at the Tokyo Art School he trained under Kuroda Seiki who had been in Paris some years before. By 1913, Foujita was ready to sail for France with his father’s blessing and a small allowance. His father had been a doctor in the Imperial Army of Japan. After a forty five day sea journey, he arrived in Marseille and then in Paris where he took a room at the Hotel D’Odessa. There he met the Chilean painter Ortiz de Zarate and was taken to the Autumn Salon. Foujita was amazed at the thousands of paintings and sculpture on display. He also met Diego Rivera who would, one day, paint Foujita in classical costumes. Through these artists, Foujita met Picasso. They discussed cubism and the work of Henri Rousseau. The Japanese painter began to paint landscapes using Rousseau’s style. He was taken with the philosophy of Raymond Duncan and appeared on the streets in woven Greek-style costumes and handmade sandals. Women were instantly attracted to Foujita who, in some circles, was now called Leonard. He befriended all the major artists of the day including Matisse, Juan Gris and Jules Pascin. Foujita soon moved into his first studio at 5, rue Delambre in the center of Montparnasse. Here with his early financial successes, he installed a bathtub with running water. The community of Paris models flocked to his studio to enjoy this luxury. Attracted to women, he met Lucie Badoul and fell in love with her, having been struck “by lightening.” His own wife at that time was Fernande Barry who looked for Foujita at the morgue. The painter had spent three days with Lucie. By the mid twenties, Foujita, a non-drinker who drank only water, was lionized by the Paris community. His fame had grown and he did a portrait of Kiki, nude against an ivory white background that shocked even Man Ray who, in turn, took one of his famous pictures of Foujita. He was now in fancy company. His painting of Kiki sold for 8,000 francs. He exhibited in all the major galleries including the Autumn Salon and the major exhibitions in Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, London, New York and Chicago, to name but a few. He would paint only landscapes for a while then switch to nudes with short hair. It was estimated that at that time his outpouring included 200 paintings plus drawings, watercolors, etchings, about thirty lithographs and forty commissioned portraits. In 1925, he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur and the Belgian Order, presented by King Leopold I. His wife at that time was Lucie Badoul who he renamed Youki or Rose-Snow. She was the center of attention among the artistic, social and political celebrities of the day. It made the papers when Foujita bought Youki a yellow car and chauffeur for her 21st birthday or when the bought and moved into a luxurious apartment at 3, square Montsouris, near the painters Georges Braque and Derain. He could be seen at the Rotonde, Dingo or Coupole but unlike his friend Modigliani, he was a non drinker. Yet he loved to Party and in 1929 at a costume party, given by Youki’s friend, Mado Anspach, they were the center of attraction. It was a great success and labeled “the last ball in Montparnasse.” In 1929, Foujita went to Deauville where a gossip columnist wrongly reported that Foujita lost millions playing baccarat. The tax authorities sued and settled for 100,000 francs. Foujita set out to raise money. He set up to exhibitions in Tokyo and when he returned, he fell in love with a beautiful redhead, singer/model named Mady Lequeux and ran off with her. His marriage to Youki was over and Foujita left for Brazil with Mady.  Youki went off with Robert Desnos whom she had met at La Coupole. Foujita toured South America and drew 60,000 people to his Buenos Aires exhibition. About 10,000 people lined up just to get his autograph. He didn’t return to Japan until 1939 and then after, returned to Europe. In 1988 he decorated the chapel in Reims. The artist who seemed to appear in every Montparnasse photograph during the twenties and was the friend of the major artists of his day, died of cancer in Zurich in 1968. He is interred at Villiers-Le-Bache, France. There was only one Foujita and in an age of stars, he was a superstar. Double Deception is work of fiction recently published in serialization on the web. It is a story through the memories of Dr Robert Bartlett Haas, a close friend of Gertrude’s,about the portrait of Gertrude Stein that had been done by Picasso before WWI. This portrait is now on view in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The story unfolds when Gertrude decides that she would like a copy of the painting done so she can keep a similar image in her summer home in Bilignin, near Belley not far from Aix Les Bains. She engages the copyist Morevna Vorobiev to do the job and when it is delivered even Picasso cannot tell the paintings apart since he sees them in a gas lit room. After Gertrude dies, the painting is sent to New York where it is deemed a copy. Has the wrong painting been delivered? Through the work of two master art detectives it is determined that Miss Vorobiev,…
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