“Foujita, painter in the crazy years” was the title of an exhibition in the Maillol Museum in Paris in the summer of 2018.
Although I am not a huge fan of Foujita’s artworks, I do find him interesting as a denizen of Montparnasse in the 1920s. I think the first time I even heard of him was on a guided walking tour of Montparnasse. One of our stops on this tour was in the courtyard of the building where Foujita lived and worked from 1917 to 1924.
Here our guide told us that as soon as Foujita could afford it, he had a bathtub with hot and cold running water installed in his studio. This was a sensation at the time, since most people in Paris in those years didn’t even have a shower in their apartments, much less a bathtub.
Thanks to the bathtub, he was able to lure some of the most beautiful models of Montparnasse to come and visit him and pose for nude pictures.
The exhibition included this large photo of Foujita in his bathrobe, painting a picture of a model who was not at all nude, but at least barefoot.
One thing I learned in this exhibition was that Foujita was one of the first people to buy a small 8-mm movie camera in the 1920s. He used it not to make any sort of artistic films, but just to take movies of his friends on excursions to the seaside. His films have since been digitalized and were being shown in endless loops on small screens in various corners of the exhibition. Most of his friends were no doubt famous at the time, but I’m afraid I didn’t recognize any of them.
The exhibition ended with a professionally-made film about Foujita’s later life, after the wild years in Montparnasse were over. During the Second World War he went back to Japan and worked as an artist for the Japanese Imperial Army. After the war he returned to France and lived in relative obscurity until 1959, when at age 72 he returned to the public eye by renouncing his old philandering lifestyle, converting to Roman Catholicism and being baptized in Reims Cathedral, with the head of the Mumm Champagne Company serving as his godfather.
Later he and his godfather decided to build a small chapel on the grounds of the Mumm company. Foujita at age 80 spent several months painting the inner walls of the chapel with elaborate religious frescos, his last major work of art.
My photos in this post are from 2018. I wrote the text in 2019.
See also: Foujita’s chapel in Reims.