Impressionist and Modern Art
11 Oct 2018
London, New Bond Street

La fête d'anniversaire, a highly important masterpiece by the Japanese-French artist Léonard Foujita sold for £7,096,250 to a bidder on the phone at Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art sale in London today (11 October), setting a new world record at auction for the artist. Unseen in public since 1950, and never before offered at auction, the work had an estimate of £900,000-1,300,000.

Bonhams Global Director of Impressionist and Modern Art, India Phillips, said "La fête d'anniversaire saw Foujita at the very height of his powers and it is an extremely important work from a pivotal time in his career. It has been such a pleasure to accompany this beautiful work on its journey, and it comes as no surprise to me that the result was so hard fought." There were eight different bidders battling it out, all on the telephone.

La fête d'anniversaire was one in a series of works Foujita painted in New York in 1949, in homage to the French 17th century writer, Jean de la Fontaine. Fontaine's best known work – Fables – drew on Western and Eastern storeys, and therefore perfectly suited Foujita's very similar blend of influences. The artist was also attracted to the air of innocence and joy in the tales, later saying, "as a reaction to the violent times, I conjured the sweetest of subjects, even childish subjects."

Depicting a birthday party, complete with cake and candles, where the family members have been replaced by various expressive animals, La fête d'anniversaire is a wonderful example of the high-style that Foujita developed upon his arrival in New York. In the background Foujita references his own work, hanging a charcoal study for one of his celebrated Nu on the wall behind the patriarchal and matriarchal figures of the dog and chicken.

As Phillips commented, "This is a wonderful painting. The extremely complex composition has been created using very fine layers of glaze, applied on a typically fine canvas reminiscent of the Japanese porcelain and lacquer that had inspired him for so long. The result is one of Foujita's most important paintings, a strange and powerful work placed at the very moment of the artist's rebirth, displaying perfectly the explosion of creativity and technical mastery the artist was enjoying at this time."

It seems that Foujita held this work in great esteem, creating for it its own hand-carved frame – something he did for only a select few works. The frame includes images from the birthday party table, such as the serving spoons and bottle opener. The work was selected for Foujita's solo 1949 exhibition at Mathias Komor Gallery and then travelled to Paris for his important solo exhibition at the Galerie Paul Pétrides in 1950, where it was purchased by a private French collector on the final day of the exhibition. It has remained in private hands since then and not seen in public for almost 70 years.

Other highlights included:

- Clown de profil by Georges Rouault sold for £428,750 (estimate: £350,000-550,000)

- Femme étoile by Joan Miro sold for £260,750 (estimate: £180,000-220,000).

- Les Amoureux a l'ane bleu by Marc Chagall sold for £230,750 (estimate: £80,000 – 120,000)


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  1. India Phillips
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8263
    FaxFax: +44 20 7447 7434

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