LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968) Vierge et enfant (Painted circa 1953)

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Lot 13AR
LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA
(1886-1968)
Vierge et enfant

Sold for £ 137,500 (US$ 170,888) inc. premium
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, SPAIN
LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968)
Vierge et enfant
signed 'Foujita' (lower left)
oil and gold leaf on canvas
22 x 16.1cm (8 11/16 x 6 5/16in).
Painted circa 1953

Footnotes

  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Sylvie Buisson. This work will be included in Vol. IV of the forthcoming Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared.

    Provenance
    Galerie Romanet, Paris.
    Private collection, Spain (acquired from the above in 1953).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    Exhibited
    Bilbao, Galeria Alonso (organised by Galerie Romanet), 2 - 22 December 1953.

    The 1950s was a transformative decade in the life and career of the Japanese painter Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita. He had endured the war years in Japan, where he was commissioned by the Emperor to act as the official artist to the war effort, yet he longed for Paris and a return to the fertile creative atmosphere of Montparnasse. Foujita had enjoyed considerable fame in France during the 1920s and 1930s, where his distinctive painting style drew crowds at his shows held at the Galerie Chéron and Galerie Paul Pétrides. Alongside his friends, Amedeo Modigliani, Moïse Kisling, Ossip Zadkine and Kees van Dongen, he remained at the centre of the demi-monde throughout this period, a frequenter of the brasseries and studios of Montmartre and Montparnasse.

    Throughout the war, Foujita remained determined to return to Europe, and finally in 1949 he left Japan for New York where he staged a triumphant return to the international stage with an exhibition at Mathias Komor Gallery and Galerie Paul Pétrides. When the show left New York for Paris so did Foujita, alongside his wife Kimiyo. The years immediately following his return to France were filled with activity, and Foujita drew great inspiration from the European tradition. Characterised by a more playful style but retaining the rigorously fine application and technique of his earlier work, the works from the 1950s often depict children or women in traditional European dress, with motifs taken from medieval religious painting.

    Foujita took French citizenship in 1955, and in 1959 he completed his conversion to Catholicism by being baptised under the Western name 'Léonard' (after Leonardo da Vinci). These landmark events in Foujita's life prompted an occidentalisation of his work, which can be seen in the present work, Vierge et enfant. Created during Foujita's immersion in a very European painterly tradition of sacred and devotional images, Vierge et enfant is reminiscent of gold-ground icons and altarpieces by painters such as Duccio, Simone Martini and Giotto.

    As Sylvie Buisson notes: 'the virgin and child remains a recurring theme, inspired by the Florentine and Sienna Renaissance Madonnas from Raphaël to Vinci. They are also as close to the synthetism of Brancusi and of Modigliani as to that of Utamaro in the shaping of form and the purity of line. The use of gold leaf is common to both Western and Oriental cultures' (S. Buisson, Foujita, Le maître japonais de Montparnasse, 2004, p. 184).

    The image is unquestionably religious: the Madonna wears her blue mantle, decorated with stars just as she would have been presented by the painters of the Quattrocento, while she gazes solemnly at the Christ child. He is dressed regally in red, with his face modelled with the utmost delicacy, in keeping with Foujita's fine technique. Foujita had been astounded by early Renaissance painting during his visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XV, in particular the Cappella Niccolina where he saw the serene frescos of Fra Angelico, with their accents of gold and lapis.

    Foujita had in fact used gold ground since the late 1910s in his works, having observed works in the Louvre and using the metal to create an aura of majesty and sumptuousness. His first use of a precious ground was as early as 1917, when he used a silver ground in Cinq graces dans un paysage d'hiver (S. Buisson no. 17.21), swiftly followed by his first exploration in the use of gold in La mort de Bouddha (S. Buisson no. 17.40). This small work on paper treated another religious subject of course, but already in this year Foujita began to depict images of nuns at prayer and, crucially, the Virgin and Child. The styling of these portraits at this time retained the primitivism that so fascinated Foujita and his friend Modigliani, and these works closely relate to late Medieval works of artists like Cimabue. By 1953, when he painted Vierge et enfant, these devotional images had developed in style, now taking more from the Renaissance masters such as Raphael in the less formal rapport between mother and child, and the soft fall of drapery, now much more naturalistic and tender.

    Vierge et enfant is a stunning example of Foujita's renewed fascination with the theme of the Virgin and Child, to which he returned with gusto in 1953. This work was among the group of paintings completed by the artist in preparation for a series of exhibitions organised by Galerie Romanet in North Africa and Spain. As Sylvie Buisson states: 'the majority of the oils exhibited in North Africa were painted off the stretcher. They were subsequently fixed to fine wood panels and framed under glass. Foujita even transported many of the oils there himself, in his suitcase' (S. Buisson, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, ACR Edition, Vol. II, Paris, 2001, pp. 118 - 119). The scope of this touring show is a testament to Foujita's international renown following the war, and demonstrates the international following that he had attained. Purchased from the Bilboa leg of this touring exhibition, this work has remained in private hands since the year it was completed.
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