Tsuguhara Foujita b.Tokyo 1886-1968 Zurich
The son of wealthy parents, Foujita demonstrated an aptitude for art at an early age. When he was only fourteen a watercolour by him was selected for the Japanese section of the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Following school he studied at what is now known as the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
In 1913 he went to Paris. He knew no one but the affable artist met Leger, Modigliani, Pascin and Soutine almost immediately. Within a week he had also become friends with Gris, Matisse and Picasso. It was at Picasso’s studio that he first saw Cubist works, and from the artist’s collection, paintings by Henri Rousseau. On returning to his hotel he determined to create an art that was entirely of his own, not a copy of someone else, here in the centre of the international art world.
Foujita rapidly achieved fame as a painter of beautiful women and cats using a very original technique. Utilizing his Japanese training, he drew a fine calligraphic line with ink around the subject and then applied colour to the canvas prepared with a milky white ground that was a mixture of exotic substances such as ground oyster shells. Extremely prolific as well as popular, he was one of the few Montparnasse artists who actually made a great deal of money during his early years.
His travels throughout Latin America during the early 1930s were well received, the paintings he did there being more colourful, a reflection of the environment.
Returning home to Japan in 1933 he produced a number of paintings including Events in Akita, 1937, a massive tableau depicting the various festivals held throughout the year in that prefecture.
Foujita returned to Paris for a brief while in May 1939 but the outbreak of the Second World War forced him to go back to Tokyo. During the immediate aftermath questions of collaboration arose. No charges were laid but he was disappointed by the way his fellow artists had treated him. This was probably the main factor that prompted him to take out French citizenship and settle in Paris for good.
His first post war one-man show was a sell out. Foujita, one of the last surviving members of l’Ecole de Paris, was as popular as ever. A convert to Catholicism, his last major work was to be the creation and decoration of a chapel in Reims which was completed in 1966.
Just as European artists had discovered Japanese prints in the late 19th century, Foujita discovered the art of Europe creating a unique fusion of the two.