Info

翻訳 — The film above clip is of Foujita interviewed in 1959, in the clip he discusses a few of his techniques for painting (in French with English subtitles).

Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita (藤田 嗣治) was a Japanese artist who was famous in France during the 1920s & 30s. His name in Japanese means field of wisteria, heir to peace. Born to a general in the Japanese army in 1886, Foujita left Japan in 1913 moving to Paris to realise his dream of becoming an artist. He quickly became one of the central characters of the Montparnasse artists circle between WWI & WWII and a member of The School of Paris (French: École de Paris). His friends included Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, Kiki de Montparnasse, even Isadora Duncan from whom he took dance lessons. Foujita’s art work is a mixture of traditional Japanese art techniques and western renaissance painting, he added Léonard to his name after Leonardo da Vinci so his name would reflect the mix of east & west expressed in his art. Without a doubt Foujita’s art transcends any single culture, he was one of the world’s first ‘global artists’. He is known by many for painting cats and naked women, two subjects he loved very much. I lived for years in Foujita’s apartment building in Montparnasse, actually I heard of him from the plaque that hangs above the entrance of the apartment, I then looked him up at the library and since have come to admire him and his art.

tumblr_my84jz90ts1t9x325o1_1280Foujita used Sumi Ink and Fude Brushes to draw his lines, he would outline even his oil paintings with ink drawings before applying paint. Foujita was passionate about the line, he said “Before I draw a line, I want to become one with the object and draw my instincts… I want my mind empty of all thoughts as I give myself over to the flow of the line. Beginning with the very first stroke, I draw without expectations about what will happen. A line drawn without expectations in mind produces the most interesting results…”

395L14004_786HS_66He created his own milky white paint mixture for portraying skin, it was a secret mix he never shared, even today scientific analysis of his painting can not fully work out what he used to create his grand fond blanc - milky white oil.

Foujita-Au-cafeIn the 1920s Foujita became a huge figure in the French art world. Like Salvador Dali, Foujita created a mystique around himself based on his exotic appearance and unconventional life style. He wore big-hoop earrings, a Greek-style tunic, a “Babylonian” necklace, and on occasion a lampshade instead of a hat (he claimed it was his national headdress), however Foujita was no buffoon he was seriously dedicated to his art. Unlike his friend Modigliani, Foujita did not drink or do drugs, he was highly disciplined in his work. He was interested in fashion and made clothes for himself, for his wife and friends. He used the first bit of real money he made off of his art to install a bathtub in his apartment on rue Delambre, this made him popular with his friends – public showers were the only place back then one could bath so Foujita’s bath was envied.

In 1925, only a decade or so after he’d arrived in Paris, Foujita was given the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur by the French state for his services to art, as well an order from Belgian’s Léopold I. The following year his art-work was bought by the French state—almost a quarter of a century before it bought anything by his friend Picasso. In 1931 Foujita went to America and Latin America exhibiting and painting along the way. In South America he was mobbed by fans and his exhibitions attracted tens of thousands of people. He returned to visit Japan in the mid-1930s and began to draw & paint a Japanese way of life that was fast disappearing. When World War II broke out Foujita was drafted into the Japanese army and put to work as a propaganda painter. During this period he created murals depicting battles of the war. His fame and fortune in France dissipated with the war and he found himself stranded in his home country unable to return to the west where he had built a career.

WWII Battle Scene by FoujitaIn the 1950s Foujita finally was able to return to France, he had dreamt of it for years but for many reasons, both politically and personal he could not return. When he did he converted to Catholicism and became a French citizen. After he settled back into French life Mumm Champagne in Reims commissioned Foujita to create a small chapel (yes it is ironic that Foujita did not drink alcohol but was sort of saved by a Champagne company). You can visit this amazing chapel and see the murals which combine all of the techniques he developed over his long career. Passion is almost not a big enough word to describe these murals.

b3aadecaFoujita is the patron saint for any expatriate artist or even expatriate person. The word internationalist was made for Foujita. His passion for Art & Europe pulled him from his birth place in Japan. He came to France with no support from his family and very little money yet he was true to his dream of doing art his way. He didn’t dispense with his Japanese traits but used them to help him in his adopted life. When war forced him to remain in Japan painting military murals (he only intended to visit Japan when the war broke out) he honed techniques that he later used in his religious murals. Experience of all sorts fed his art & life, no doubt it was difficult at times for him but in the end he left a very inspiring legacy.

foujita-thumbTo learn more about Foujita I recommend this biography by Phyllis Birnbaum: Foujita : Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers