Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968), Japan
Born of a noble Japanese family who were open to and interested in Western ideas, Foujita was introduced to French culture from an early age and encouraged in his artistic vocation. On 6 August 1913, the young artist, who had graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, arrived in the effervescent Montparnasse district of Paris.
From October 1913 to May 1915, Foujita occupied a studio in the Cité Falguière, an emblematic site of the artistic avant-garde where he took advantage of the proximity and sharing of studios to forge close links with Modigliani, Soutine, Kisling and Mietschaninoff. Influenced by these interactions, Foujita drew elongated bodies and faces whose ovoid shape was reminiscent of the sculptures created by his Italian friend Modigliani at the same time. From material research and mutual influences, Foujita developed a singular style characterised by delicate lines and curves, precise contours and a subtle use of light and shadow. Influenced by the European Old Masters, whom he studied in Japan and assiduously admired at the Louvre. During this time, his artwork was the crossroads of Japanese engraving, the Italian Primitives and Cubism.
He played on this cosmopolitan environment by decorating his studio with mismatched knick-knacks to create a Japanese atmosphere in the middle of Paris.In the words of author Michel Vaucaire, Foujita came across as "a Frenchified painter in the eyes of the Japanese and a pure Japanese to Westerners".Although Foujita was known for his eccentric lifestyle and personality in Montparnasse, he deliberately kept his work to himself, working in total secrecy and refusing to talk about his painting, despite his frequent outings to the cafés Le Dôme and La Rotonde.
In 1931, Foujita returned to Japan for the first time. During the Second World War, he served his country as a painter and became an official artist of the regime. Over the years, Foujita continued to develop his visual language through his favourite subjects, such as cats and women, exploring the mediums of wood engraving, ceramics and photography. Despite the political and social turmoil that shook the world in those years, Foujita managed to maintain a flourishing artistic career.
In the 1950s, Foujita returned to France for good, finding Montparnasse in the throes of urban change and witnessed the impending disappearance of the artistic community. Foujita supported the preservation of the Cité Falguière by taking part in the "exposition-manifeste" in 1965, which denounced the precarious situation of artists whose studios were being repurposed or destroyed.
Image source: foujita.org