The Peripatetic Artist Foujita Tsuguharu: Discovering America after Japan and France

By HAYASHI-HIBINO, Yoko

@The painter Foujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968) was born in Tokyo in the mid Meiji period and then spent half of his roughly eighty years in France. Late in life, he became a naturalized French citizen. Until now, research on Foujita has progressed within the context of binational interchange between France and Japan because of his long residence in those two countries. In fact, this twentieth-century artist traveled widely and had considerable contact with diverse cultures. This paper reexamines Foujita's works in the context of his frequent "movement" throughout the world, studies his connections to the United States, and considers the influences that shaped his multicultural outlook and his art.
@In terms of the criteria of "movement," Foujita's life can be divided into the following five time periods. (1) Childhood and student years (1886-1913): spent largely in Tokyo, where Foujita studied at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts; (2) First French Residency Period (1913-1929): established his reputation as an artist and, after seventeen years' absence, returned to Japan; (3) Wide-ranging travel through Central and South America (1930-33); (4) Residency in Japan and travel in Asia during the war (1933-1949); (5) Second French Residency Period (1949-1968): left his native Japan, became a naturalized French citizen, converted to Catholicism, and remained in France until his death. During these different periods, Foujita took many long, sometimes arduous journeys throughout most of the world. Such extensive travel, spanning the first half of the twentieth century, was unusual for a Japanese of his generation. In addition to this geographic movement, Foujita also lived through two major historical turning points, namely the "Great Crash of 1929" and Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945. This peripatetic lifestyle also meant that Foujita experienced changes in context in terms of such elements as his own artistic evaluation as at times a Japanese artist, and at other times a "foreign" artist.
@Foujita moved to the United States in 1949 and remained there for only about one year, in the time between his departure from Japan and before settling permanently in France. But he had already come into indirect contact with the American art world through his interactions with Americans, Japanese-American artists, and Japanese artists who came to Paris in the 1910s and 1920s. During the 1930s he made stopovers in the United States when traveling between France and Japan. He spent several months in the United States on each journey, establishing contacts and creating a market for his works. Thus the relationship between Foujita and the United States was both long and deep.
@Foujita was able to transcend foreign borders and nationalities, and thus was one of the pioneering Japanese who attempted to adapt himself to various cultures and changing times. We can assess Foujita as a person who made a conscious effort to immerse himself in foreign cultures during his travels, and as someone who experienced "multiculturalism" as reflected in his own artistic expression.

(translated by Martha J. McClintock)