Foujita: mon Paris, mon atelier

Mar.19 (Sat), 2011 – Jan.15 (Sun), 2012
Foujita attracted notice as an artist with the distinctive smooth ‘milky-white skin’ he was able to achieve in his graceful paintings of nudes. The range of his artistic output spanned oil painting and watercolor, print making, book illustration, decorative arts, woodworking, photography and book design. Starting with his paintings from the 1920s, when he was active with the Ecole de Paris painters, this exhibition introduces Foujita’s career as an artist, including also his print and illustrated book works, and a series of charming portraits of children dressed as artisans, painted in the latter years of his life. Thanks to a optical study conducted through the cooperation of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo and the Oil Painting Conservation Studio, Graduate School of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts, the exhibition also reveals the secret of Foujita’s characteristic ‘splendid milky-white’.

The exhibition is presented in three sections. The first section, Foujita in Montparnasse: the emergence of his ‘splendid milky-white’ focuses on the remarkable white that distinguished Foujita’s works in the 1920s. Foujita, who had dreamed of success as an artist in Paris, was able to connect with the Ecole de Paris painters, who were at the center of the French art scene at the time, shortly after he arrived to Paris in the mid 1910s. He became a sensation, and exhibited canvases of his unique nudes, with their black Japanese sumi-ink outlines and smooth milky-white ground, at the Salon d’Automne. This section of the exhibition examines the origin and subsequent development of the distinctive ‘splendid milky-white’ that made Foujita the ‘darling’ of the Ecole de Paris.

The second section, Foujita’s Atelier: journey of the imagination, introduces works, mainly from the 1940s and 1950s, done in Japan as an official war artist and upon Foujita’s return to Paris after the World War Ⅱ. Foujita was considered a leading Japanese war artist. When the war ended, he returned to Paris, by way of New York, taking responsibility for his wartime cooperation with the Japanese military. Foujita’s ambivalent and complex emotional attachments to both Japan and France are evident during this period, discernable in the figures and animals that exist somewhere on the edge of reality and illusion in his paintings. After Foujita made up his mind to never return to Japan, his feelings of affinity with France intensified, and his post-war masterpieces have been interpreted as tributes to France.

The third section of the exhibition, Little Artisans: homage to Paris, features a series of oil paintings, done in Foujita’s latter years, showing children as workers or craftsmen. The motif includes portraits of children as plasterers, joiners, furniture makers and artisans of other handicrafts, as well as in the role of carriage drivers or street peddlers selling glass and such, as could be seen in the streets of Paris in olden times, or as working in newer jobs such as apartment managers or janitors, and various other occupations. The portraits are fanciful, born of Foujita’s imagination. They were drawn on a small square boards and affixed to panels hung to decorate Foujita’s atelier. This series is called “Petits Métiers et gagne petit”. Foujita’s intent in creating these works is explored in this section of the exhibition.