Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita
"Nu Couche, Youki (1903-1966)"
oil, pen and ink on canvas
signed and dated "Foujita/1923" and further signed in Japanese characters center left, "Galerie Gilbert & Paul Petrides/Paris" label on stretcher.
15" x 21-3/4", framed 26-1/4" x 33"
Provenance: Galerie Gilbert & Paul Petrides, Paris, France; Private collection, 1986-2008; Christie's, New York, New York, May 7, 2008, lot 448.
Literature: Leonard-Tsuguharu Foujita and Dominique and Sylvie Buisson. La Vie et l'oeuvre de Leonard-Tsuguharu Foujita (Courbevoie/Paris: A l'encre rouge, 1987), p. 367, no. 23.14 (illustrated with incorrect dimensions).
Notes: Lucie Badoud (aka Youki) was one of the most important women in Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita's life. As his lover, wife and muse, she inspired some of his most prolific work. Through her, Foujita redefined feminine beauty in ivory and bone from the negative space of an ink drawing, born par excellence of Eastern calligraphy. Foujita and Youki were the celebrities of the Parisian art scene in the 1920s. Hailed a shining star, Foujita was more successful than Picasso and more acclaimed than Matisse. Youki, a figurehead in her own right, rivalled Foujita's other famous models - Kiki of Montparnasse and Modigliani's muse Fernande Barrey, whom Foujita took as his second wife days after meeting her in a cafe. When Foujita met Badoud in 1921, he was smitten by the pallor of her skin - her body he likened to white-capped peaks on sensuous, figural slopes; her visage to porcelain with lacquer black eyes framed by golden hair. Foujita christened her "Youki"- snow in Japanese, a name she legally retained until her death in 1964.
Through Youki, Foujita perfected the "fond blanc" (white ground) technique - the crowning earmark of his work. The bravura of the white ground artistry seamlessly blends the aesthetics of the orient and occident while compromising the identity and integrity of neither. The art of Shodo - of Japanese calligraphy laboriously practiced through controlled bamboo brushwork - creates depth and movement through line quality alone. Devoid of modelling and shading, it privileges (like all ink/watercolor media do) the whiteness of the background and of the negative space. Conversely, oil painting, a medium invented in the West, paints/blocks in the canvas plane and privileges the positive construction of space, typically facilitated through perspective. In his portraits of Youki, Foujita celebrates Shodo in oil painting; while all forms are delineated through the pen and ink lines and lack three dimensionality, the negative spaces are painted in - matte black Indian ink blots out the background and the white pigment of the middle and foreground are the centerpiece. Made of mixed flaxseed oil, crushed chalk, white lead, and magnesium silicate, Foujita's pigment fascinated viewers with its milky iridescence as it captured both the "snow" of Youki's skin and the translucent luminosity characteristic of fine Asian porcelain and ivory.
Portraits of Youki as a reclining odalisque are rare because they were mostly executed in the early 1920s. Even more rarely are these "fond blanc" masterpieces offered at auction. The last one ("Youki au Chat"), a striking companion to this work, sold for almost $800,000 last March at Christie's, London, Impressionist and Modern Day Art Sale.