Muses and Models of Foujita and Sanyu at Phillips Sales House
#PARIS becomes in March, the capital of drawing. Classic or modern, baroque or abstract, drawing expresses itself in all its diversity. This period is the one chosen by the phillips Auction House to present in its spaces on rue du Bac, an exceptional exhibition of drawings by Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) and Sanyu (1895-1966). The exhibition pays tribute to their exploration of the female nude, of which they were pioneers among their generation. Some thirty works make up this exhibition-sale, which will be held in Paris from 19 to 30 March 2019 before travelling to Hong Kong, to Phillips’ galleries and the St. George’s Building from 18 to 31 May 2019, in parallel with the French May festival and the spring sales.
Clara Rivollet, an international specialist in 20th century and contemporary art, who recently joined Phillips, is the coordinator of this event.
Marlène Pegliasco: What is the origin of Foujita and Sanyu’s drawings on display?
Clara Rivollet: These are all unique works, paintings and drawings from private collections in France, Europe, USA and Japan. Some have not been exhibited to the public for several decades, others were visible in recent museum exhibitions, including the Foujita exhibition, painting in the Roaring Twenties at the Maillol Museum last year.
M.P.: What does the modernity of their drawings consist of?
C.R.: Impressionism had opened the way for a reflection on the representation of reality. Following this, the artists of the early 20th century rushed into it by summoning non-Western references such as Picasso, who sought tribal art in particular in the quest for a different perspective and a new conceptualization of forms. Foujita and Sanyu, of Japanese and Chinese origin, obviously have this alternative view in them, which, in contact with the Parisian avant-garde in this creative breeding ground of the 1920s, bring a crazy wealth! In their respective approaches, Foujita and Sanyu take this modernism even further by drawing on classical Asian references. If Foujita’s line is meticulous, descriptive and linear, Sanyu’s is on the contrary effective, elliptical and modulated. Foujita reproduces the delicacy and milky whiteness of the female flesh of Japanese prints. He also uses the composition in successive shots without representation of depth. The extreme attention to detail of which the fine brush reproduces each hair and eyelash of his models creates a rendering paradoxically detached from any realism. As for Sanyu, he reduces the woman to a few essential lines, which mean more than they describe. Thus he skillfully translates the logic of the Chinese character into drawing, and in this he already borders on abstraction in a wild anticipation and modernity.
Moreover, the subject of the female nude represents a form of transgression in Asian culture, which has very few examples of representation of the female nude in its history, whereas it is a real tradition in the history of Western art. Painting a nude has something sulphurous for Sanyu and Foujita, and here is all their audacity. Their free gaze on a classical Western subject allows them to revolutionize it while drawing a continuity with history. It is also a beautiful tribute to the liberated woman of that time, whose most emblematic remains famous today: Kiki de Montparnasse, who posed for both Sanyu and Foujita, among others. It can therefore be seen in one or other of the works in the exhibition.
M.P.: Can you tell us more about their techniques?
C.R.: In both artists, we find the influence of ink mastery in painting, again in a very different way. Sanyu, as a good calligrapher, naturally favours the brush and ink to sketch the nude models during the free sessions of the Grande Chaumière. The difficulty of the ink is that it does not suffer any clumsiness or repentance. In his paintings, he approaches the material in a very free way, in particular by engraving motifs directly on it or by using varnish as a colour to create matt and shiny effects. Foujita, for his part, became famous for his immaculate white backgrounds in his paintings. It creates an opaque and regular background similar to porcelain or mother-of-pearl. This background then allows him to draw with a brush a line of unequalled finesse like that of a Japanese print. It was certainly the meeting in 1923 of Lucie Badoud, whom Foujita called Youki, snow in Japanese, in reference to her white skin, that inspired this pictorial particularity of Foujita.
M.P.: What is the exceptional nature of this sales exhibition?
C.R.: This is the first exhibition dedicated to the two artists, Foujita and Sanyu, who shared many common points: contemporaries of the Montparnasse school, with a similar background, who came from Asia and who managed to escape this system of cultural exchange to really integrate into Parisian life, drawing on common calligraphy references, the writing system in character and cultivating a certain dandyism. It is also a rare opportunity to discover Sanyu’s work in France, which remained too confidential to the French public even though he lived there all his life until his death in 1966. Presenting a two-part exhibition, Paris – Hong Kong, also reflects the importance Phillips attaches to Paris in his overall strategy. Without the constraint of a sales schedule, we have full freedom to carry out tailor-made projects for our French and French-speaking public.
Foujita/Sanyu: Muses and Models
Exhibition-sale of drawings by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita and SanyuPhillips
Paris, 46 Rue du Bac, Paris 75007, 19 – 30 March 2019
Phillips Hong Kong 14/F, St. George’s Building, 2 Ice House Street, Central Hong Kong,
18 – 31 May 2019
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