Foujita’s La Fête D'anniversaire Sold for £7.09m, Auction Record for the Artist

La fête d'anniversaire, an important masterpiece by the Japanese-French artist Léonard Foujita sold for more than £7m at Bonhams London, setting a new auction record for the artist.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Foujita’s death. Estimated at £900,000 - 1.3m, the painting was undoubtedly the centrepiece of Bonhams’ Impressionist and Modern Art Sale. It elicited an intense bidding battle between eight telephone bidders before it was hammered down at £6.1m, six times its estimate.

The painting was hammered down at £6.1m at Bonhams London

La fête d'anniversaire was one in a series of works Foujita painted in New York in 1949, in homage to the French 17th-century writer, Jean de la Fontaine. After Foujita was graduated from what is now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, he moved to France to continue his career as an artist.

On March 10th, 1949, Foujita flew to New York, the first step in his return to the West before Paris, leaving Japan for good. It was a year that seemed to be a jubilant rebirth of Foujita as an artist, after a dark and disturbing period that he had spent four years as the official painter to the Imperial Army of Japan, followed by another four years spent fighting accusations of being a collaborator.

Cats and women are common themes in Foujita’s paintings

Cats and women are common themes in Foujita’s paintings

Depicting a birthday party, complete with cake and candles, where the family members have been replaced by various expressive animals, La fête d'anniversaire is a wonderful example of the high-style that Foujita developed upon his arrival in New York. In the background Foujita references his own work, hanging a charcoal study for one of his celebrated Nu on the wall behind the patriarchal and matriarchal figures of the dog and chicken.

The work was selected for Foujita's solo 1949 exhibition at Mathias Komor Gallery and then travelled to Paris for his important solo exhibition at the Galerie Paul Pétrides in 1950, where it was purchased by a private French collector on the final day of the exhibition. It has remained in private hands since then and not seen in public for almost 70 years. Before the painting went up for auction in London, it was on preview in Hong Kong. We asked India Phillips, Bonhams Global Director of Impressionist and Modern Art, to comment on this painting.

India Phillips, Bonhams Global Director of Impressionist and Modern Art

The frame was carved by the artist with images from the birthday party table

Phillips said this is one of Foujita's most important paintings, “a strange and powerful work placed at the very moment of the artist's rebirth, displaying perfectly the explosion of creativity and technical mastery the artist was enjoying at this time."

It seems that Foujita held this work in great esteem, creating for it its own hand-carved frame – something he did for only a select few works. The frame includes images from the birthday party table, such as the serving spoons and bottle opener.

The previous auction record for the artist was set in 1990 when his 1957 work Jeune Fille Dans le Parc was sold for US$6,050,000

Jeune Fille Dans le Parc

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 – 1968). La fête d'anniversaire.

Lot no.: 18
Created in: 1949
Size: 76.5 x 101.7cm/ 91.6 x 116.5 cm (with the artist’s frame)

  • Galerie Paul Pétrides, Paris.
  • Acquired from the above by the previous owner (8 April 1950).
  • Thence by descent.

Estimate: £900,000 - 1,300,000
Hammer price: £6,100,000
Price realised: £7,096,250

Auction house: Bonhams London
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art
Sale: 2018/10/11