Foujita, painting in the roaring twenties


If I had been a teacher (which I have always wanted to be …), a question I would always have asked my pupils is the following: “Which artist from the early twentieth century Paris school more than any other represents the link between East and West?”

The answer is easy, all the more so after having visited the exhibition “Foujita, peindre dans les années folles” at the Maillol Museum.

It is in fact the naturalized French painter Foujita to whom the Maillol Museum dedicates a very beautiful exhibition from 7th March to 15th July on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his death .

In the online version of the Beaux Arts magazine, the review about the exhibition reads as follows: “He is the most Japanese painter of the Paris school. Foujita settled in Montparnasse in 1913 and he soon became an emblematic figure of the roaring twenties”.

I really do not agree; first of all, how could he not be “the most Japanese painter of the Paris school” since he was born in Tokyo in 1886 and arrived in Paris only in 1913? But more importantly, what I find misleading, if not altogether erroneous, is to classify the artist as being “emblematic of the roaring twenties”.

There is nothing ‘roaring’ about Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita. His biography indicates he was “born from a high ranking Samurai family”, and this is reflected in his art. Inspired by the purest classicism, he was never submerged by the impetuous wave of the avant-gardes. Although he recognized the genius of Picasso, he never yielded in to abstract art, being always in pursuit of beauty in his own very personal way.

Instead of a shallow and merry light-heartedness, what does transpire from his work is an unusually deep awareness that turns into rigour and pureness in his paintings, proof of his eastern roots that he never disavowed.

The magnetic “Nu allongè” of 1922 may be the paradigm of his production. Perfect synthesis between western classicism and, as we would say today, eastern “minimalism”, this painting illustrates the life of this painter, always straddling two styles, two cultures, and therefore two ways of seeing the world. Finding the right balance is never easy; the day before the outbreak of World War II, he decided to return to Japan to serve his country and thus became the official painter of the regime. However as indicated in his biography “the horrors of the war which he witnessed in his dear homeland were unbearable for him”. As a result he returned, this time definitively, to France.

He returned to Paris but he did not recognize himself in this city where Picasso, Soutine, Chagall, Braque, etc. reigned supreme.

”I felt my heart opening up” he said when referring to his soul opening up to Jesus. With his conversion to Catholicism in 1959 his life came full circle.

The day of his baptism, in Saint Remi’s basilica in Rheims, he chose his new name: Leonard in honour of Leonardo da Vinci.

The last and extreme recognition to our culture.

All of us Italians are grateful to him.

A very nice and complete exhibition.

Worth visiting.


‘Foujita – painting in the roaring twenties’
Museum Maillol – Paris
from 7th March to 15th July 2018