Oil on canvas
32.8 × 23.8 cm. 12 7/8 × 9 3/8 in.
Signed in Japanese and French and dated on middle right
1987, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita Vol.1, Sylvie & Dominique Buisson, ACR Edition, Paris, p.384, pl.26.40
2001, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita Vol.2, Sylvie & Dominique Buisson, ACR Edition, Paris, p.226, pl.26.135
5 - 16 Jun 1972, Chefs-d’oeuvre de la peinture moderne française, Galerie Sun Motoyama, Tokyo
23 Jun 2010, Sotheby’s London Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, Lot 362
Acquired directly by previous private collector from the above
Important Private Collection, Asia
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Sylvie Buisson
A Moveable Feast and the Muse Kiki
A Classic Work from the Golden Years of Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
“Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita projected a new light from the Far East towards Europe, using the Japanese painting tradition to illuminate the radiance of reforms to the European painting tradition.”
——French art historian Bernard Dorival
Darling of Paris: Golden Years
Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was born in 1905, scion to a rich and famous family and after receiving a good education as a young boy later studied in the Western Painting Department at Art at Tokyo Fine Arts School. In 1913, at the age of 27, Foujita traveled to Paris and with his hippy-type character quickly joined important social circles where he made friends with Kees van Dongen from Holland and Amedeo Modigliani from Italy, the three men becoming important members of the School of Paris. Living in a foreign country, Foujita combined his study and research of Western classics with the inspiration he took from traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e painting, to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere in his paintings which were comprised of white porcelain like iconic coloring and objects depicted using fine ink lines. At an autumn salon in 1920, Foujita’s painting of a creamy skin female nude caused a stir in Paris. The mastery displayed in the work was dubbed “exquisite creamy white” and thereafter the artist became known as the “darling of Paris,” holding countless solo exhibitions as his fame grew in the East and West.
The work being auctioned on this occasion is Portrait de Kiki completed by the artist in 1925, a classic piece painted when Foujita was at the height of his fame in Paris and his artistic appeal at its zenith. The work not only showcases the artist’s iconic vocabulary but also the sincere friendship he forged with a legendary muse of the French art world.
A Rare “Blonde” Kiki Work
The woman in the work is Kiki, a singer, dancer and actress who was one of the most popular models with artists from the School of Paris and also known as “the Queen of Montparnasse.” Her real name was Alice Prin and she was not only an outstanding beauty but also had a bubbly and forthright character which made her very popular. With these qualities Prin became friends with and a muse to such artists as Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine and Man Ray. In the five years Foujita and Kiki were friends the artist produced several paintings of her from 1922-1926, though there are only five oil paintings by Foujita on the market in which she is confirmed as the model. The earliest of these is Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy, which made the artist’s reputation in Parisian art circles. Portrait de Kiki is one of those five works and the only one in which the model is blonde.
Kiki’s natural hair colour was dark brown, which is how it appears in the many portraits in which she appears by other painters, whether it is Kees Van Dongen, Amedeo Modigliani or Moïse Kisling. Even in the other four portraits by Foujita her hair is dark and short. However, the photographic memoir The Secret Paris of the ‹30s by School of Paris member Brassaï published in 1976 notes: “When she was in high spirits Kiki would wear a wig and paint a few strokes with a charcoal crayon.” As such, the work for auction Portrait de Kiki in which the muse wears a blonde wig is a particularly special work with a different style. In contrast to the sexy appearance of Kiki in the works of other artists, in this painting by Foujita her green eyes are imbued with a strong intelligence and gaze back at the viewer,. The skin of the model’s neck revealed from her white top is reminiscent of a Japanese woman wearing a kimono. Through Kiki’s facial expression, the artist depicts a scene that is vivid and intimate, while the work exudes the deep friendship and trust that exists between the painter and his subject.
The only other confirmed work in which Kiki has blonde hair is Yellow Dancing Clogs, which completed in 1930 was painted by the model herself and displays self-portrait features. In the painting, Kiki appears with short blond hair with which most were unfamiliar, an indication of her fondness for this “alternative” style.
Amazing the World with Eastern Beauty
In Portrait de Kiki the figure in the painting showcases the “milky white skin” for which Foujita is best known. This porcelain-like expression highlights the desired for snow white skin shared by classical Eastern beauties. Foujita uses flaxseed oil, chalk and oyster shell powder mixed with white lead and talcum powder, to create a brand new pure white glaze, that showcases the smooth-as-jade and creamy texture of skin as if covered by a halo. The arms of the model are thrown over the back of a chair and take up the center of the painting, the arched back of her hand and snowy white skin of her arms highlighting her graceful posture. Foujita uses extremely fine black ink lines to depict Kiki’s form, with a slightly smudged charcoal crayon used to create shadow on her clothes and skin. As a result, the depiction in the painting fills viewers with a sense of yearning and speaks to us of a time long since past.
HKD: 1,500,000 – 2,000,000
USD: 191,100 – 254,800
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