LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968) Nu aux mains croisées (Painted in Paris in 1924)

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Lot 22* AR
Nu aux mains croisées

Sold for £ 1,695,062 (US$ 2,180,625) inc. premium
Nu aux mains croisées
signed and dated in Japanese, and further signed and dated 'Foujita 1924' (lower left); signed, inscribed and dated in Japanese and further signed, inscribed and dated 'Paris 1924 Foujita' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
81.2 x 65.5cm (31 15/16 x 25 13/16in).
Painted in Paris in 1924


  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Sylvie Buisson.

    Galerie Nichido, Paris & Tokyo.
    Private collection, Japan (acquired from the above in the early 1970s).

    Tokyo, Galerie Nichido, Gloires de l'art francais, 10 – 23 August 1971, no. 46.

    S. Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita, Vol. II, Paris, 2001, no. 24.104 (illustrated p. 198).

    Nu aux mains croisées was painted at a time of great personal change and artistic success for Foujita, who by 1924 was enjoying both a new romantic relationship and great critical acclaim. Born in Tokyo, he had studied at the National University of Fine Arts and Music where he combined the Western medium of oil paint with Japanese ink techniques, anticipating his unique style in even these earliest works. He left for Paris at the age of 27 and quickly befriended artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Foujita embraced the heady bohemian lifestyle of Montparnasse in the 1920s and by the time the present work was painted, was already a celebrated figure of the École de Paris.

    One of the few artists of this school to have achieved commercial success in his lifetime, Foujita's distinctive style was met with praise from the outset: in 1917 he exhibited 110 watercolours at the Galerie Chéron in Paris in his first solo show, all of which sold. These works on paper maintained the feel of Japanese woodcuts but depicted the Parisian café scene around him in a blending of East and West. Foujita's 1922 painting Nu couché à la toile de Jouy was one of his first to use a live model and was shown in the Salone D'Autumne to huge success, and by 1925 he had received the French Legion of Honor.

    Nu aux mains croisées stands testament to Foujita's harmony of Eastern technique and Western subject. The languorous outlines of the nude in the present work are delicate yet bold, reminiscent of the traditional Japanese sumi-e (ink brush painting) technique. Foujita's exemplary draughtsmanship is evident in the highly-detailed rendering of the model's wavy hair and the few economical lines with which he captures the curves of her ear and lips. The nude's creamy luminescent skin shines out against the more muted background, formed by a technique Foujita named nyuhakushoku (chalk white, or literally 'whiteness of milk'). The artist would gently layer a specific white ground (the exact specification of which he never revealed) to capture his model's white skin and then contrast this with black outlines applied with menso - the finest brushes used by traditional Japanese painters. The radiance of the sitter's skin is only heightened by the small gap or border Foujita leaves around the edge of the whole figure, particularly evident around her hair, in an echo of a Renaissance halo.

    The only colours in Nu aux mains croisées are the delicate shell pink of the model's lips, nails and nipples, the rich chestnut of her hair and the soft silvery shadows which look to the stump technique used in Foujita's works on paper. This almost monochrome treatment of the nude find its parallel in Foujita's Japanese contemporaries, notably the nudes of Hashiguchi Goyō. Goyō used similar delicate washes of ink to paint nudes such as his 1920 Woman after a Bath [Portrait of Kodaira Tomi]. The model's white skin becomes an almost negative, abstract space in both artists' compositions.

    The viewpoint of the present work is somewhat ambiguous – the pose and crumpled bed sheet behind the model indicate she is lying in repose, but the portrait orientation of the canvas denoted by the placement of the signature suggest she could also be seated or standing in front of a backdrop. If the model reclines, Foujita forces the viewer to look down upon her from an unusual perspective, effectively highlighting the flatness of the picture plane. Such an emphasis, together with the muted colour palette and calligraphic lines, remind us of Japanese woodcuts yet presents us with a very Western subject which had seldom been explored in Japanese art:

    'An idea struck me one day: there are only very few nudes in Japanese paintings. Even painters like Harunobo or Utamaro let only appear a portion of the knee or the leg, and these were the restricted areas where they could represent the skin sensation. This is what encouraged me to paint nudes again after 8 years of break with the clear objective of depicting the most beautiful material that can be: human's skin' (Foujita quoted in S. & D. Buisson, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita, Vol. I, Paris, 2001, p. 96).

    The artist refers here to his decision to embark on a series of odalisques in 1921, an exploration which was to form one of the key subjects of his artistic oeuvre from this moment forth. These compositions were met with immediate praise, and parallels with Western art history were swiftly drawn: 'It is the relief without shading of M. Ingres – with whom, indeed, Foujita seems to have as much in common as with his Japanese ancestors – a relief which is suggested, at least in its essentials, merely by the subtle arabesques of the lines' (Le Temps, 1 May 1923, reproduced in J. Selz, Foujita, New York, 1981, p. 61). The sweeping lines of Nu aux mains croisées certainly echo works such as Ingres' 1839-1840 Odalisque with a Slave, in which we also see the luminous skin and subtle shading. Foujita's travels to Italy in 1921 may also be referenced in the saint-like crossed hands of the model in the present work: the artist was so taken by the Renaissance Madonnas of Michelangelo and Da Vinci on his sojourn that he later chose to be christened 'Léonard' in homage when he converted to Christianity in 1959.

    The artist's decision to focus on the nude has also been attributed to his new romance at the time. Having arrived in France with his first wife Tomiko Tokita, he divorced her for Fernande Barrey in 1917 whom he married just 13 days after first meeting. Their marriage became increasingly open however, and in 1921 he started a relationship with Lucie Badoul (whom he nicknamed Youki, 'rose snow', for her pale skin). The pair married in 1924 and for the next decade or so Youki would be Foujita's preferred model. The couple hosted extravagant parties, becoming celebrities of the whirling Montparnasse social scene. In the year the present work was painted, Fernande is said to have attacked Youki at an exhibition of Foujita's work, apparently driven to jealousy on seeing the passionate renderings of his new muse. Removed from the turbulence of Foujita's personal life however, the model in Nu aux mains croisées lies in serene repose, enclosed by the artist's delicate and dexterous lines. Although the sitter is unnamed, her cascade of rich auburn hair certainly finds comparison in works such as Youki, Goddess of the Snow of the same year.

    The year of this work's execution was pinpointed by Youki herself as being one of the happiest for her and Foujita. Writing in her memoirs she comments that 'in 1924, life was easy, business flourishing and Foujita started to be known. We were in love with each other, we were good, and kind and happy of everything' (Youki quoted in ibid., p. 112).

    Painted at a key time in Foujita's artistic development, Nu aux mains croisées presents afresh the Western canon of nudes through the artist's own interpretation of Japanese calligraphic technique. This delicately coloured, iridescent canvas stands in marked contrast to the brighter, more loosely painted works of his French contemporaries and marks the moment at which his work became a leading influence in both the Eastern and Western art worlds.
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