LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968) Femme allongée, Youki (Painted in Paris in December 1923)

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Lot 13AR
Femme allongée, Youki

Sold for £ 795,062 (US$ 1,059,920) inc. premium
Femme allongée, Youki
signed and dated 'Foujita 1923' and further signed in Japanese (lower left); signed 'Foujita' and further signed, inscribed and dated in Japanese (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
50 x 61.2cm (19 11/16 x 24 1/8in).
Painted in Paris in December 1923


  • Provenance
    Private collection, Paris
    Private collection, Paris (a gift from the above in the 1930s).
    Thence by descent to the present owners.

    Paris, Palais à la Porte Maillot, Salon des Tuileries, 1924.
    Paris, Musée de Montmartre, Léonard Tsuguhuaru Foujita et l'Ecole de Paris, 10 April - 23 June 1991, no. 14 (later travelled to Tokyo).
    Dinard, Palais des Arts du Festival, Foujita, le maître japonais de Montparnasse, 27 June - 25 September 2004, no. 51.
    Kawamura, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, Léonard Foujita et ses modèles, 17 September 2016 - 15 January 2017, no. 16 (later travelled to Iwaki, Niigata & Akita).
    Paris, Musée Maillol, Foujita, peindre dans les années folles, 7 March - 15 July 2018, no. 79.

    F. de Miomandre, 'Foujita', in L'Art et les artistes, Paris, Vol. XXIII, no. 120, October 1931 (illustrated p. 14; titled 'Femme couchée' and dated '1924').
    S. Buisson, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Vol. II, Paris, 2001, no. 23.30 (illustrated pp. 29 & 187).

    In the three decades from the Meiji Restoration until the turn of the century in 1900, Japan had changed in the most profound way. Closed off to the Western world throughout the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan had maintained the purity of its traditions in a way that seemed unimaginable to its contemporaries in the melting pot of central European culture. This was certainly true of the Arts, as painters and craftsmen revived and refined the ancient styles of painting, wood-blocking and porcelain production. When Japan threw off this self-imposed isolation in the 19th Century, a new wave of painting was promoted by the government to reflect the cultural rebirth and global reintegration: yoga, or Western, style. Artists were now encouraged to travel to Europe, seeking an exchange with their French, Dutch and Italian counterparts, returning to Japan well-versed in the aesthetic developments they had encountered there. One young artist who set off on this journey of discovery was Tsuguharu Foujita. However, he did not return to Japan shortly after his training in Paris: he went on to become one of the leading figures of the European avant-garde. By blending both Eastern and Western canonical traditions, and elevating them with a talent entirely of his own, Foujita remains one of the most significant figures to emerge from this period of cultural exchange.

    Born not long after the reopening of Japan to the West, Foujita trained as a yoga painter at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and shortly thereafter moved to France with the intention of immersing himself in the art and culture of Paris, the epicentre of the international art scene. Perhaps Foujita's intentions were never to return to Japan bringing with him an understanding of the current French practice, but it soon became clear upon his arrival that he would not be satisfied with mere artistic reportage. Within a decade of his arrival in 1910, Foujita had attained critical success, and was a leading light of the Montparnasse scene, alongside his friends and fellow artists Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.

    The end of the First World War in 1918 brought with it a new dawn in Paris. As Fernand Léger described it, 'man could finally lift his head, open his eyes, look around him and enjoy once again a taste for life' (Léger, quoted in S. Buisson, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, ACR Edition, Vol. I, Paris, p. 80). The Grand Palais reopened the following year, after spending the war as a barracks, and a Salon d'Automne was organised in which Foujita took part alongside some of the great names of the day: Matisse, Bonnard, Marquet. Foujita became a regular fixture at the annual Salons, and through these occasions he began to gain greater and greater acclaim. After the heartache of losing his close friends Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne in 1920, Foujita threw himself ever more fervently into the practice of his art. He gained critical success for his serene still-lifes, and portraits embodying both his Eastern traditions and the most thrilling elements of the avant-garde. By the time the current work, Femme allongée, Youki, was exhibited in the Salon des Tuilieries in 1924, Foujita was at the very height of his 'golden-age'.

    Painted in 1923, the present work is one of the most alluring of Foujita's grands nus: a series of medium and large-scale canvases depicting the odalisque of the European tradition, seen through the prism of the Japanese painter's unique vision. Around 1920 Foujita moved away from the brighter palette he had adopted during the 1910s, and developed a restrained palette of greys, browns, blacks and creamy whites. Foujita even created a technique called nyhakushoku, or 'milky white', that he used to paint the serene tones of his nudes' skin. He employed these almost monochrome hues with devastating effect: in the present work, Foujita has used a smoky black to depict the background of the bedroom, throwing his sitter's alabaster skin into stunning contrast. Upon close study the subtle variations in her skin tone become clear, the shell-pink of her nipples and lips, and the shadows highlighting her breasts. The warm brown of her wavy hair identifies the sitter as Lucie Badoud, or 'Youki' as she was called affectionately by Foujita. The close perspective takes the viewer into the bed itself, enveloped in the soft grey ripples of the bed linens and the darkness of the intimate space Foujita has created. Youki gazes directly at the viewer, as if looking in to the eyes of her lover. The Japanese writer Teiichi Hijikata remarked that 'the skin [of Foujita's nudes] has the smooth and sparkling surface of porcelain, containing all the charm of white with none of the coldness' (Hijikata, quoted in S. Buisson, ibid., p. 96).

    Foujita had noted that the nude was all but absent from Japanese art, and that he had made a conscious decision to focus on the subject, looking to the greats of the Western canon, for whom the female nude had been a cornerstone since the Italian Renaissance. In 1921 the artist travelled to Italy, and encountered many of the great Western paintings so admired throughout the centuries. Painters like Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael were to become as important for Foujita's artistic development as Picasso and Modigliani had been during the preceding decade. It is likely, for instance, that Foujita would have seen The Venus of Urbino during this formative trip, and one cannot behold Femme allongée, Youki without recalling the direct gaze and gently downward tilting face of Titian's golden-haired beauty.

    Foujita's obsession with the female nude during the early 1920s can be seen partly as a response to his discovery of the Old Masters, but also as a conceptual choice very much tied to his Japanese heritage. Foujita applied the Japanese concept of Geidō, which means 'the way of art', to his practice. This concept encompassed the idea of an artist only attaining greatness through an apprentice-like devotion to perfecting technique. He believed that only through applying himself with an almost monkish devotion to his practice, could he then introduce an element of individuality and creative greatness to his work. This goes some way to explain Foujita's somewhat repetitive 'self-copying', as Sylvie Buisson refers to it, (S. Buisson, op. cit., p. 92), where the artist returned again and again to the same compositions and themes. One can conclude that by the early 1920s Foujita's ardent practical application had brought him a level of technical excellence that truly merited the success he was to enjoy during this period. He was convinced that artistic success was all that mattered, as this would bring him immortality: 'I had a very Oriental philosophy: it didn't matter when or how I died because [my artistic success] would give me, even in the depths of misery, a serenity of being' (Foujita, quoted in S. Buisson, op. cit., p. 92).

    While Foujita commenced in earnest the painting of nudes in 1921, it was the following year that developments in his romantic life would provide the artist with his most fertile inspiration. Since 1917 Foujita had been in a relationship with Fernande Barrey, herself an accomplished painter of headstrong character, and a notable regular at the balls and brasseries of Montparnasse. During the first years of the new decade Fernande had become frustrated with Foujita's slavish working practice, leaving her to socialise without him while he spent his days and nights in the studio. While Fernande began a widely-reported affair with another Japanese artist, Koyanagi, she remained very much in love with Foujita and scoured the streets of Paris for her then-husband after he had all but disappeared. Foujita's sudden absence from the studio was in fact due to an encounter with the young daughter of a hotel owner. With remarkably fair skin and wavy auburn-blond hair, Lucie Badoud was a very different character to Fernande, and from the outset of their relationship she was devoted to Foujita in an entirely unselfish manner. Mesmerised by her skin, Foujita nicknamed her 'Youki' ('snow' in Japanese) after the snow-like appearance of her complexion, a quality that was highlighted to monumental effect in his 1924 masterpiece Youki, déesse de la neige, that he selected for the Salon d'Automne that year.

    Femme allongée, Youki is one of the artist's finest examples from this incredibly fruitful period, where Foujita's new desire to depict the unadorned female figure led to some of his most celebrated compositions. One can see the fervour with which Foujita approached the subject in the numerous depictions of Youki and her fellow models: 'I use models not only to produce my works but above all the way that food nourishes the body. Also like food, I have tried to absorb as much nutritious substance from them as possible' (Foujita, quoted in S. Buisson, Foujita, Inédits, Paris, 2007, p. 127). The vitality that the artist gained from these sittings is certainly visible in the present composition, as well as the devotion he felt during these early years with Youki. It is a portrait of intense sensuality, that encapsulates the artist's desire to marry the canonical influences he had discovered in Europe with the technical and philosophical rigour of his homeland.
LÉONARD TSUGUHARU FOUJITA (1886-1968) Femme allongée, Youki (Painted in Paris in December 1923)
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