Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita: A blend of cultures

KatherineArtist Spotlight, European PaintingsLeave a Comment


A meeting of two different cultures often times results in a unique perspective. In art, a blend of cultures creates something visually stunning and new. In the works of Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, East meets West.

Foujita’s work was a marriage of traditional Japanese art and European Modernism, resulting in paintings with a sense of subdued peace. Foujita favored white, light lilac, and other cool colors. Cats and women were two of his favorite subjects. Even in landscapes and other paintings, this fascination can be seen. His works all share a feline fluidity.

He found success early in Japan but Foujita longed for something else. European styles intrigued him and compelled him to move to Paris in 1913. Once he arrived, Foujita found a community of kindred spirits and instant friends in the famed Montparnasse neighborhood. Low rent apartments and a wide variety of artist friendly cafes made Montparnasse the heart of the bohemian community for decades. Modigliani, Picasso, and writers such as Hemingway could all be found here.

Foujita Reclining Nude painting

Reclining Nude with Tolie de Jouy

One great friendship that Tsuguharu Foujita formed while living there was with Man Ray’s mistress and muse, Kiki. He painted several nudes of her, one of which, Reclining Nude with Tolie de Jouy, featured Kiki reclining nude against an ivory backdrop. It sold for a great sum of money and gained him much of his renown.

Montparnasse not only allowed Foujita to express himself on canvas, but as an individual. Foujita become known for his quirks. He walked the streets in a toga and wore a lampshade instead of a hat. At one costume party, he entered clad only a loincloth with his then wife naked in an ornate cage. Despite his colorful lifestyle, it was still clear that he was a serious artist who was interested in all kinds of creativity.

In 1939, Tsuguharu Foujita returned to Japan. Emperor Hirohito asked Foujita to compose propaganda posters to inspire patriotism during the hardships of World War II. It is unclear what drove Foujita away from his native country – whether he was criticized for his war art or if Japan was simply no longer his home – but in 1955 Foujita became a French citizen and later converted to Catholicism.

When Foujita returned to Paris, he came back to a changed city. The center of the art world was now New York and Foujita’s works were better known in Japan. Nonetheless, he produced a significant amount of paintings. Many of these paintings and drawings have only just been uncovered in recent years.

Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.


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