Foujita/Sanyu: Muses & Models – The Comparative Journey of the Two Franco-Asian Artists at Phillips Hong Kong

Phillips presents a selling exhibition Foujita/Sanyu: Muses & Models focusing on female nudes by two Franco-Asian artists, Léonard-Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) and Sanyu (1901-1966). The exhibition pays homage to the artist’s exploration of the subject of the female nude, which made them pioneers of their generation.

The exhibition features more than 25 works focusing on the 1920s and the 1930s of Foujita and Sanyu. The two artists bridged Asian and Western traditions, merging traditional techniques derived from Japanese printing and Chinese calligraphy with the modern, liberal sensuality they encountered by living and working in Paris during the 1920s.

Foujita's Portrait of a blond young girl with a bun

In the early 20th century, the two artists were in Paris, an international capital for the arts. Armed with a diploma in Western painting from the Tokyo University of the Arts and a command of the French language, Foujita moved to Paris and set up a studio in Montparnasse in 1913 at the age of 27. He was familiar with traditional Japanese painting on paper and silk and Western oil painting.

Foujita's Nu allongé, Madeleine

After his arrival in Paris in 1913, Foujita became active in its art scene, fully absorbed into the swirling atmosphere of the Parisian Annees Folles which saw his creative desire freed from some of the perceived constraints of Japanese artistic formality. His sensational breakthrough came in the form of his depiction of the nude. His exceptional synthesis and balance in the treatment of the subject is demonstrated beautifully in Nu allongé, Madeleine.

Sanyu's Reclining Nude

After a short stay in Tokyo, Sanyu settled in Paris in 1921 as a beneficiary from a cultural exchange program in place between France and China. He was the first Chinese person to remain in France while his famous counterparts Lin Fengmian and Xu Beihong went back to China respectively in 1926 and 1927. Sanyu was fascinated by the free and uninhibited environment in Paris, where he plunged into what to him was the exotic world of nude drawngs. Sanyu’s early works in Paris comprise exclusively ink and pencil drawings of nudes and figures, with which he experimented with Western sketching techniques to explore and express the lines of the human form.

Sanyu's Standing Nude

Foujita and Sanyu were both inspired and transformed by Paris and their engagement with the artistic avant-garde, mingling with their contemporaries at la Couple or la Rotonde and at the dissenting artistic salon gatherings.

Foujita's Nude with Raised Arms

While the female nude has been a classic subject in Western art since Antiquity, it holds a marginal place in classic Asian art, save for within the intimacy of certain Japanese prints where women are essentially relegated to serving as objects of desire. The discovery of the feminine nude model, therefore, appeared to Chinese artist Sanyu and to Japanese artist Foujita as a heretical field of exploration, all the more so since it had no real footing in their respective cultures.

Sanyu's Seated Nude

Sanyu and Foujita distinguish themselves from their contemporaries with their outstanding mastery of lines. While Foujita’s lines are meticulous, descriptive and linear, Sanyu’s lines are efficient, elliptical and modulated. Although opposites in their expression, the two artists conjure up the strength of the line in ‘the same artistic and cultural language, for calligraphy, textiles and lacquers.’

Foujita/Sanyu: Muses & Models

Date: 18 - 31 May 2019
Time: 10am - 6pm
Venue: Phillips Hong Kong Gallery
Address: 14/F, St George’s Building, 2 Ice House Street Centre, Hong Kong