Leonard Foujita (Leonard Foujita)

Leonard Foujita

Painter.  He was an art world superstar of the 1920s.  In his prime Foujita was celebrated for his ivory-skinned nudes and portraits,  created in a flat,  decorative style that blended Western influences with visual traditions of his native Japan.  Today his paintings of cats in their many moods are especially prized by collectors.  He was born Tsuguharu Fujita in Tokyo,  the son of an army physician,  and graduated from the Imperial School of Fine Arts in 1910.  In 1913 he persuaded his father to let him further his education in Paris,  and he had his first solo exhibition there in 1917.  He later said,  “I became a man in Japan,  and I became a painter in France”.  His signature style began to emerge after World War I,  when he was hailed as a leader of the “School of Paris”,  a blanket name for foreign artists living and working in the French capital.  Foujita would prepare a canvas with his own unique blend of white paint (he never divulged the formula) which gave it a porcelain-like texture, and then go over it with sparse,  translucent color,  often letting the supple line drawings beneath show through.  Sometimes he restricted himself to a monochrome color scheme,  giving his oils an ink-wash effect.  The artist considered “My Room,  Still Life with Alarm Clock” (1921) his breakthrough,  and “Nude with a Jouy Fabric”,  a smash hit at the 1922 Salon d’Automne,  made him an international celebrity. Other famous works of the period include “Reclining Nude with a Cat” (1921),  “Youki,  Goddess of Snow” (1924),  “Before the Ball” (1925),  “Two Friends” (1926),  and several inscrutable self-portraits.  In 1925 he was awarded France’s Legion of Honor and Belgium’s Order of Leopold,  and by 1927 he had successfully exhibited in 11 countries.  At this time he was also a noted Parisian bon vivant who knew everyone from Picasso and Isadora Duncan to Ernest Hemingway,  and whose personal life made regular fodder for the gossip columns.  (He was married four times,  twice to French women).  In 1930,  income tax troubles and an extramarital affair set him off on a lengthy tour of the United States and Latin America,  ending with his move back to Japan in 1933;  in the interim he started painting in a more colorful,  realistic manner.  During World War II he turned out propagandistic war scenes,  such as the mural “Last Stand at Attu” (1943),  and was given the honorary rank of major general in the Imperial Japanese Army.  This made him suspect after the Allied victory and controversy over his wartime activities still lingers in his homeland. Nevertheless he found work with the American occupying forces,  and was able to leave for New York City in 1949.  He settled in the village of Villiers-le-Bâcle,  France in the early 1950s,  becoming a French citizen in 1955.  Many of his late paintings have religious themes,  reflecting his conversion to Catholicism in 1959,  while his cat pictures (which he considered something of a sideline) continued to sell well.  He died at 81 in Zurich,  Switzerland,  where he was undergoing treatment for cancer,  and was buried in the village cemetery near his home.  Foujita’s last major work was the construction of the Chapel of Our Lady Queen of Peace (1966) in Reims,  for which he designed the Romanesque architecture as well as the interior and exterior decorations.  He executed the wall frescoes himself over the Summer of 1966,  despite his age and fading health.  “I am building this chapel to atone for 80 years of sin”,  he said.  Upon its completion he donated the property to the City of Reims.  Now better known as the Foujita Chapel,  it was declared an historic monument by the French government in 1992.  In 2003 Foujita’s ashes were reinterred here,  as he had originally wished. (bio by: Bobb Edwards)  Family links:  Spouse:  Joseph Vlcek (1892 – 1975)* *Calculated relationship


  • November, 27, 1886


  • January, 01, 1968


  • Cimetière de Villiers-Le-Bacle
  • France

2312 profile views