Tsuguharu Foujita

Tsuguharu Foujita

1886 – 1968

Tsuguharu Foujita was born in Tokyo in 1886, a descendant of the Foujiwara samurai family at a time when Japan was just beginning to open itself to the Western world. His father was a doctor in the Imperial Army with the rank of general.  He studied at the Imperial School of Fine Arts, now Tokyo University, and was soon recognized as a very talented young man, winning numerous prizes and even garnering the interest of the Emperor, who purchased one of his paintings.

Although Foujita surely would have been guaranteed a successful career in his native country, he was greatly intrigued by European painting styles during a trip to London in 1912. This fascination compelled him to move to Paris in 1913, where he joined the avant-garde artists and bohemians of the Montparnasse, with its low rents and high aesthetic aspirations. He got his father’s permission and the promise of a small pension.

His newfound companions included Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Chaim Soutine. He was also friends with painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, whose lover Jeanne Hebuterne posed for Foujita in his studio. Man Ray’s famous muse Kiki also posed nude for Foujita in the 1920s, with the resulting portrait, Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy being the sensation of the Paris Salon d’Automne in 1922, as well as earning Foujita more than 8,000 francs.  He tended to earn more from his work than his fellow Montparnassians, making him able to afford what most starving artists couldn’t even dream of: the ultimate luxuries of hot water and a bathtub. Many models came to Foujita’s studio to enjoy this luxury.

At the height of Tsuguharu Foujita’s popularity, mannequins in his image appeared in the windows of fashionable Parisian department stores, complete with his trademark bangs, round glasses, hoop earrings and tatoo watch around his wrist.  His friends found it difficult to pronounce his name so he was ofter referred to as “Fou-Fou” by both friends and the French press.

Never shy about self-promotion, Tsuguharu Foujita knew the importance of marketing one’s persona along with one’s art.. He was always good for a spectacle, such as showing up at a costume party clad only in a loincloth accompanied by his second wife Fernande, who was naked in a cage. But beyond the public image, Foujita was a disciplined and serious artist with a distinct style

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