The Trendsetter: Tsuguharu Foujita

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"Three Ballerinas" is representative of the work of Japanese-French artist Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968), the only Japanese artist to be considered a member of the "School of Paris."

1. Tsuguharu Foujita was an accomplished artist even in high school. In 1900, when he was just 14, one of his paintings was sent to the Universal Exhibition in Paris. By age 24, the emperor of Japan had purchased one of his paintings; by age 25, he had been asked to paint a portrait of the king of Korea during a trip there.

2. After studying French in night school, Foujita eventually moved to Paris, where he became friends with Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse. Foujita was the envy of the other artists living in Montparnasse, as he was one of the few artists to make a lot of money. The wealth he enjoyed enabled him to take advantage of luxuries, such as a bathtub with hot running water and a chauffeur-driven fancy car that he adorned with a small Rodin bust.

3. Phyllis Birnbaum, in her book Glory in a Line, describes Foujita's distinctive appearance, which consisted of his "trademark bangs," round glasses, and hoop earrings, as well as a watch tattoed to his wrist. He—and his appearance—were so well-known around town that Parisian stores used a mannequin modeled after Foujita in their store windows to sell clothes.

4. Returning to Japan in 1933, Foujita spent World War II in his homeland, where he created militaristic propaganda for the country. His war paintings were apparently "so overwhelming people prayed before them," but after the war, his fellow Japanese turned on him for creating propaganda. Claiming persecution by his countrymen, Foujita returned to France in 1949.

5. Foujita's last major project was the decoration of a Catholic chapel—which some sources say he built—in Reims, France. Foujita had converted to Catholicism around 1950, shortly after returning to France. He finished the chapel in 1966 and died two years later in Zürich, Switzerland.

A larger version of Foujita's "Three Ballerinas" is available here.

Fans should check out the collection of Foujita's work at The Athenaeum and Man Ray's portrait of Foujita. (Man Ray has also been featured on "Feel Art Again;" you can read that post here.)

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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