Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Wally Findlay Gallery, Chicago
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1958)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Daniel Malingue Gallery, Maitres Impressionnistes et Modernes, 25 April - 15 June 1985, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Sylvie and Dominique Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita: Volume 1, Paris, 1987, no. 58.34, pp. 255, 520 (illustrated in colour and full page, p.255; illustrated, p. 520)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “As a reaction to the violent times, I imagined a few very tender subjects, even very childish, one could say”. Foujita on the occasion of his first exhibition at Paul Pétrides gallery, 24 March – 8 April 1950

    “All these little fairies-girls bear the same forehead as smooth as silk! They are solemn. Their wide pupils show an empty fixedness, bottomless wells in which maybe remains some inexpressive knowledge, in front of which we lower our eyes such as in the gaze of newborns”. Robert Rey on the occasion of Foujita’s first exhibition at Paul Petrides gallery, 24 March – 8 April 1950, quoted in Foujita, Sylvie and Dominique Buisson, ACR editions, p.220

    This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s death and this occasion has led to a number of events and exhibitions celebrating the artist, as well as affording a closer examination of his life and work. These events included an important exhibition, focusing on the interwar period, at the Musée Maillol in Paris and a travelling retrospective exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto.

    The Japanese-born artist had first moved to Paris at the age of 26, decades before he painted Fillette aux fruits et au damier and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. There, he made his name, establishing his own artistic style and achieved great fame alongside his friends and fellow émigrés artists of the École de Paris such as Amedeo Modigliani, Moïse Kisling and Chaïm Soutine. In 1950, returning to France after a number of years abroad, including some spent in his native Japan, Foujita settled there permanently, acquiring French nationality in 1955. His style and subject matter during the 1950s take a very distinctive turn and, as in Fillette aux fruits et au damier, plunge the viewer into a world of children rich with allusions and symbols about Foujita’s personal life. The quintessential Parisian everyday life is depicted in the present work through the typically French geometric black and white marble flooring, as though Foujita was assimilating and immersing himself fully into his newfound nationality, yet he retains a nostalgic longing for the home of his youth through the juxtaposition of the steel chairs. While these chairs would call to mind the bistro cafes in the streets of Paris, they were in fact placed in Foujita’s home in Tokyo during the war.

    Foujita had long been interested in the theme of children, but this came even more to the fore with the imaginary youths depicted in the compositions executed throughout the 1950s. Usually depicting young girls, in a variety of guises and situations, they often share features with the one shown in Fillette aux fruits et au damier. In Small Housewife (1956), the resemblance is striking between the main character and the little girl in the present work. Foujita created an entire sequence of works showing the characters of the Parisian street such as fishmongers and beggars, reimagined as children. But perhaps more evidently, in Fillette aux fruits et au damier, the girl clearly relates to the central figure in his large-scale painting, one of the most ambitious compositions of 1958; L’âge mécanique, now in the collection of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. In that work, the girl is placed on the floor in the same position and attire, holding a toy robot between her legs, rather than fruits; surrounded by contemporaries playing with objects from the worlds of both adulthood and childhood, from sewing machines and vacuum cleaners to toy trains, cranes and aircraft.

    Fillette aux fruits et au damier was itself one of a sequence of paintings showing a girl surrounded by fruits or vegetables. Amid the figs, peaches, bananas, and apples, the present work calls to mind the still-life painting genre that flourished in the early 1600s, such as Frans Synders’ Still Life with Fruits and Vegetables (c.1700), and through Foujita’s meticulous rendering of these allegorical elements with utmost precision, there is a distinctive aesthetic appeal which simultaneously carries a decorative function. It alludes to the abundance of life with the fruits and vegetables that come from the earth, and the artist continuously explores this theme in his series. Another important example is in the Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, which dates from 1963, five years later, showing the enduring importance of the subject to Foujita. In each of these works, the girl engages the viewer with a direct, ever-knowing but somehow peaceful gaze. Having had excessive involvement and astounding diligence during the Second World War to create hundreds of documentary war oil paintings, watercolours and drawings, his oeuvre after the war years marked a personal and artistic shift for the artist. Returning to Paris in February 1950, Foujita let his brush linger over the relics of pre-war Paris – historic streetscapes, the advance of the new age, and more importantly, the world of children – perhaps a nostalgia he had for pre-war peace and innocence. He surrounded himself with representations of imaginary scenes returning to an incarnation of innocence as well as a stylistic return to techniques which had first led him to fame: his signature milky whites and the use of a very thin Japanese brush to create painstakingly meticulous and delicate lines.

    Looking closely, the world of children engaged in innocent play appears more subtle, complex and ambiguous. As reflected by the presence of the overtly fecund fruit that surrounds the little girl, Fillette aux fruits et au damier appears to be a deeper, multi-layered exploration of fertility from a man who never had any children of his own but who constantly looked to them as models for his paintings throughout his career. Imaginary sitters, painted children, that grace his canvases, all stem from this world of fantasy which Foujita created where these innocent and poetic creatures engage in an adult world, as seen in the L'age mécanique and as he sees himself. On a personal level, these little girls, all bearing the same features, remind us of the antique doll collection Foujita had in his studio. In wax or porcelain, dressed in old-fashion costumes, they were installed on the mezzanine of his studio on Rue Campagne-Première in Paris. Seen from below, this perspective accentuated the curve of the breast, deepened the eyes, and elongated the neck, all of which explains the delicate boundary between reality and imaginary scenes at play in Foujita’s compositions as well as his return to his distinctive technique and translucent style.

    In the 1950s, Foujita goes back to his meticulously and painstakingly detailed style. Usually using the customary white background that he had developed years earlier and which lend his paintings such a unique, opalescent luminosity. This extends to the girl’s skin, which has a pale glow. Despite being painted in oils with fine brushes, Fillette aux fruits et au damier evokes a work on paper in its colouring. In this way, Foujita manages to balance a sense of spontaneity with that of the stillness of the scene he has shown. At the same time, he also recalls the art of Japan. Foujita explained that he had, ‘lived in Tokyo till the age of 25, then in Paris for 20 years. I was raised in Japan, but my painting grew up in France. I’ve got family in Japan and friends in France. So now I have two native countries. I’m an international person. I feel nostalgia for two countries’ (Foujita in M. Guillemot & J. Doherty, trans., Foujita: Paroles d'artiste, Lyon, 2018, p. 42.) In Fillette aux fruits et au damier, that melding of cultures is embodied in the colour of the canvas itself, which recalls both the Japanese prints that had had such an impact upon the artists of Paris at the turn of the 20th century, but also of porcelain. A delicate and very personal work in its theme and composition, this work is indeed the perfect receptacle in which the fusion of all the life experiences and stylistic evolutions of Foujita takes place.


Fillette aux fruits et au damier

signed and dated 'Foujita 58' lower centre
oil on canvas
46 x 33 cm. (18 1/8 x 12 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1958, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson.

HK$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

Sold for HK$8,140,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018