Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
1886 - 1968
oil on canvas, 1952
signed and on verso signed, titled and inscribed "3F"/ "2193" / "EE"
10 3/4 x 8 3/4 in 27.3 x 22.2 cm
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Sold for: $349,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present Important Private Collection, Montreal, then California, circa 1955
Pierre de Tartas, editor, Jean Cocteau, La mésangère, illustrated by Tsuguharu Foujita, 1963
The model’s soul nourishes Tsuguharu Foujita. Gazing eye to eye, the model - a young child - engages directly with the painter. Foujita sets up a fusional relationship with his model; he had appropriated her as the object and subject of his creation, entrusting her with the task of personifying his ideal of beauty. It is a beauty that he established at the border of dream and reality, from his native Japan and from France, the country he adopted and which he became a citizen of in 1954.
The bright and complementary colours of the child’s dress, tinted red with deep shadows and a green more nuanced and shifting like a pond’s clear water, largely fill the lower portion of the foreground; this shimmering ensemble highlights the frontal aspect of the subject and reinforces the inner greatness of this little being seated proudly on the painter’s stool. The row of pearl buttons, arranged vertically from the navel to the graceful knot formed by the hands, divides the lower portion of the painting in two, and yet more strongly emphasizes the seated position and the remarkable gesture of the knotted fingers.
Like a true courtly lady of an imaginary Renaissance, the childlike figure positions herself with style and poise in the centre of the canvas. Foujita’s gaze retains only the essential, the soul of a strange and ageless child coming from his intimist vocabulary, emerging at the crossroads of his knowledge and preferences regarding Flemish and Italian paintings, which he extensively studied, particularly at the Louvre in Paris during his first years in France. It also includes the charming aspect of those little Japanese girls with their wide eyes, their little mouths and their sloping shoulders, who were his childhood friends. The model in this painting evokes a porcelain doll more than a living presence. For Foujita, western and Japanese porcelain dolls look alike. Therein lies the genius of Foujita, camped out in his workshop, standing before the glass wall overlooking the rooftops of Paris, a being from nowhere so much as the depths of his own soul. The model’s soul is essentially an extension of his own. An exploration of the artist is represented here by the presence of his easel, his small canvas signed in the lower right Foujita, his long fine brushes, and in the foreground, the fruit of the clever mix he invents, and reinvents, on every occasion, inspired by his blend of memories of Japan and of Europe.
In reality, what Foujita gives us is a self-portrait in disguise, imagining his face reflected, small but sure, in the large, black pupils of his model, whom he dresses in a bonnet white as snow and whose fingers he crosses, placing her hands on her heart. The asymmetry of the eyes and the pearl-like complexion evoke the traditional Japanese ideal of beauty. Blending East and West, Foujita’s enchanted world excelled in the post-war creation of characters borrowed from manga culture and the great western painting tradition. They are charged with complex and troubling feelings; they are fascinating and have a great purity of form.
“Like Lewis Caroll, Foujita seems to search the world of childhood for reflections on what adults find moving,” wrote Jean Cocteau about his friend Foujita. With the inclusion of the portrait within a portrait, Foujita wanted to offer two versions of the child in two different sizes, to get the most out of one of his favourite subjects, the interpretation of childhood. In his own childhood, he had the love of his father and a wonderful family, but he knew grief very young, at the age of five, after his mother died. It was a childhood that tested him and that continued to affect him. The painting perched on the easel is another interpretation of the model – who is imaginary because she springs primarily from the mind of the artist. Mon modèle reveals two singular visions and fuses them together in one composition, a distillation of the genius of Foujita.
We thank Sylvie Buisson, historian and expert on the life and works of Foujita, and author of the Catalogue général raisonné de Foujita, for contributing the above essay. Buisson, Union Française des Experts, has confirmed the authenticity of this work, which will be included in Volume 4 of the Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita catalogue général de l’oeuvre. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Buisson.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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