Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita--the Artist Caught Between East and West (Paperback)
The first biography in English of the Japanese artist who was a central figure in the dazzling artistic milieu of 1920s Paris
When we think of expatriates in Paris during the early decades of the twentieth century, certain names come to mind: Hemingway, Picasso, Modigliani—and Foujita, the Japanese artist whose distinctive works, bringing elements of Japanese art to Western oil painting, made him a major cultural figure in 1920s Montparnasse. Foujita was the only Japanese artist to be considered part of the "School of Paris," which also counted among its members such prominent artists as Picasso and Modigliani. Noteworthy, too, was Foujita's personal style, flamboyant even for those flamboyant times. He was best known for his drawings of female nudes and cats, and for his special white color upon which he could draw a masterful line—one that seemed to outline a woman's whole body in a single unbroken stroke.
With the advent of the Second World War, Foujita returned to Japan, where he allied himself with the ruling Japanese mili-tarists and painted canvases in support of the war effort. After Japan's defeat, he was scorned for his devotion to the military cause and returned to France, where he remained until his death in 1968. Acclaimed writer and translator Phyllis Birnbaum not only explores Foujita's fascinating, tumultuous life but also assesses the appeal of his paintings, which, in their mixture of Eastern and Western traditions, are memorable for their vibrancy of form and purity of line.
“Birnbaum skillfully evokes the complex trajectory and tragic dilemma of an artist literally caught between two worlds: condemned in Japan as a peddler of hackneyed oriental stereotypes whose success owed more to lifestyle than to artistic talent, yet ignored in the West whenever he tried to develop a purely Western, exotica-free, academic style. Birnbaum has done Foujita a great service in recounting what came before and after his golden age in 1920s Paris.” —Joe Earle, Chair, Department of Art of Asia, Africa, and Oceania, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“This is an outstanding study of a remarkable painter. Foujita was the first modern Japanese artist to achieve, and retain, international fame. To write a coherent biography of this flamboyant, attractive, and immensely gifted artist requires high linguistic skill in both French and Japanese and a superior sense of literary discrimination as well. Phyllis Birnbaum deftly peels through the layers of confession and confusion with which Foujita often surrounded himself in order to produce a witty, thoughtful, and wise study of the artist and the often tumultuous times during which he lived and worked. He is the perfect choice for the first full-length biography of any modern Japanese painter to be written in English, and Birnbaum is the ideal writer to bring him and his work into focus.” —J. Thomas Rimer, Emeritus Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Pittsburgh, a co-author of Paris in Japan.
“Phyllis Birnbaum uses wide-ranging research and access to both French and Japanese sources to bring to life an intriguing, enigmatic artist who lived and worked in two worlds, balancing between the art world of Paris and the demands of his Japanese heritage.
She re-creates the heady days of the Montparnasse artists' community in 1920s Paris, when Foujita's languorous nudes, incisive portraits, and moody cats made him a star among the artists, models, gallerists and collectors, and she also sheds new light on the more ambiguous legacy of Foujita's return to Japan and his paintings for the Japanese war effort.
Birnbaum has created a multi-faceted portrait of a 20th century artist whose life and work continue to fascinate us today.” —Julie Martin, co-author (with Billy Klüver) of Kiki’s Paris