Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, May 25, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Private Collection, France
    Crédit Municipal de Paris, Paris
    Artcurial, Paris, 5 December 2005, lot 21
    Private Collection, Switzerland
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Sylvie and Dominique Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita: Volume 2, Paris, 1987, no. 28.195, p. 273 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was one of the most famous Japanese artists working in the West during the 20th Century, whose hypnotic, iridescent paintings were fêted by Western and Eastern collectors alike and eagerly collected by contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso.

    Landing in Paris on the eve of the First World War, Foujita – who as a boy took French lessons and dreamed of moving to France – threw himself into Montparnasse’s bohemian life, befriending the School of Paris set’s most prominent avant-garde artists of the day including Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani (as well as the aforementioned Picasso), and sleeping only a few hours a night in order to devote all possible waking hours to his art.

    “I was raised in Japan, but my painting grew up in France”, said Foujita of his work (Foujita in M. Guillemot & J. Doherty, trans., Foujita: Paroles d’artiste, Lyon, 2018, p. 42). His hybrid of Eastern and Western subjects and techniques captivated the Parisian imagination, and his first solo exhibition in 1917 sold out instantly. Picasso, one of the first visitors, reportedly left with as many works as he could afford. His dealer, who also represented Modigliani and Chaïm Soutine, asked him to produce two works a day to meet demand. Together with his flair for dramatic appearances, Foujita became so well-known in Paris that ‘Foujita’ mannequins (complete with his trademark bangs, gold hooped earrings and thick, round tortoiseshell eyeglasses) were used to sell clothes in department store windows.

    In 1921, Foujita became involved with Lucie Badoud, a Frenchwoman with skin so enchantingly white that he re-christened her ‘Youki’ – ‘snow’ in Japanese. “I have fallen in love with a lovely, lovely beauty of almost twenty, and she also loves me,” he wrote to a friend (Hiraoka Genpachirō, “Fujita Tsuguharu-shi no tegami”, Kokumin bijutsu, December 1923). Foujita’s next request was that she pose for a large nude painting for him. Thus began the period when Foujita produced some of his most iconic and sensuous works. His models numbered over 3000 – amongst them his lovers, close friends, acquaintances from his favourite hangouts La Rotonde and Le Dôme, and some even plucked from the streets of Montparnasse.

    Femme Pensive, whose subject has never been definitively identified (indeed, Foujita’s nudes were drawn partly from life, and sometimes partly from his imagination), conceivably pays homage to some of Foujita’s most cherished muses. It is both an intimate portrait which shimmers with passion and tenderness, and a frank admiration of the female body, sensuous and milky-white against an undulating, snowy background. Whilst comparisons can be drawn with other portraits (for example, the limpid blue eyes and wavy copper-toned hair of Foujita’s 1927 painting Nu, Youki, and the distinctive nose and almond-shaped eyes of Nu allongé, Madeleine (1931), the silken folds of the backdrop form a halo around the model’s head and body, transforming her into a goddess from another world. Her gaze, neither coy nor passive, rests directly upon the viewer, and the canvas vibrates with unspoken tension.

    Although he thoroughly embraced the artistic freedom of Paris, Foujita repeatedly counseled his fellow Japanese artists to remember their heritage in order to avoid slavish imitation in their art. Indeed, whilst the trend amongst many of his Parisian contemporaries was to pile on bold clashing paints thickly and wildly, Foujita used a very thin Japanese writing brush to create the black sumi ink-like lines of his subjects, and relied on his signature delicate milky white glaze – what he called the grand fond blanc - to breathe life into them. This white, luminous ground seemingly gave his subjects flesh of radiant ivory, and its exact recipe (a blend of flaxseed oil, crushed chalk or white lead, and magnesium silicate – a formula virtually unheard of in the West) was carefully guarded by Foujita. It was a bold and original choice. Despite his uncompromising portraits, which spurned the modest portrayals of women in traditional Japanese art, Foujita never strayed far from his Japanese aesthetic roots, in particular the traditional Japanese concept of ma, or the consciousness of empty space. He sought to capture the essence of his model within a few smooth, supple lines, refining his drawings in several iterations before transferring them to canvas.

    It is this uncompromising and unconventional vision that built Foujita’s enduring reputation and legacy both in the East and the West. 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of his passing, was commemorated with a retrospective at the Musée Maillol in Paris and a travelling exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto.


Femme Pensive

signed and dated 'Tsuguharu [in Kanji] Foujita 1928' lower right
oil on canvas
38 x 45 cm. (14 7/8 x 17 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1928, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson.

HK$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,375,000

Contact Specialist

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019