Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita

Art on This Day

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita

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Japanese-French painter and printmaker Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was born on this day in 1886, Tokyo, Japan. Primarily being known to apply Japanese ink techniques to Western style paintings, he has been called “the most important Japanese artist working in the West during the 20th century”. Foujita’s strange yet representational paintings often depict himself, cats, and women.
 
Immediately after graduating secondary school, Foujita had always desired to study in France, however, decided to study western art in what is now the Tokyo National University of Fines Arts and Music, graduating in 1910. Moving at the age of 27 to Paris, Foujita Found almost instant success and was able to sell and live of his art. He was submerged in the bohemian culture during the 1910s in Montparnasse, becoming friends with prominent avant-garde artists of the day like Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, and Soutine. Foujita married three times, yet never had a family with any, keeping a close relationship to his second wife, he financially supported her until her death in 1960.
 
In 1931 he headed for Latin America, where he spent the next six years. Enormously popular there, he was one of their first art superstars. Ever open to new influences, his work in this period takes on something of the palette and style of Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera, which no doubt endeared him further to the Latin Americans. In 1937 he returned to Japan where he was again acclaimed, not least as a European success story: local boy matches the metropolitan greats.
 
By 1939 he was back in Europe. Later, his war art showed compassion for the suffering Japanese as they were crushed by the advancing allies. He was criticized both for being too patriotic and not patriotic enough. Disillusioned, he never visited Japan again after 1950. In 1955 he became a French Citizen and in 1959 he converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Léonard Foujita. At the age of 80 he was honored to be asked to paint part of the chapel of Notre Dame de la Paix at Reims.
 
His work can now be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. Foujita died on January 29, 1968 in Zürich, Switzerland at the age of 81.