From Publishers Weekly
Birnbaum (Modern Girls, Shining Stars, the Skies of Tokyo
) tackles the perplexing story of Fujita Tsuguharu, known as Foujita, the eccentric and controversial Japanese painter who achieved success in the West during the early decades of the 20th century. Born in 1886, Foujita studied art in Japan, but at the age of 27 moved to Paris, where he gained fame for his paintings—especially exotic cats and female nudes rendered in exquisite black lines against white backgrounds—combining Eastern and Western artistic traditions. He was equally well known for his wild behavior and flamboyant dress. But in 1940, inexplicably, he moved back to Japan and produced art works promoting its military ambitions, for which he was reviled after the war by his countrymen. Claiming he was being persecuted by the Japanese, he returned to the West in 1949 and managed to salvage his reputation before he died in France in 1968. Basing her biography on letters, archival material and interviews with people who knew Foujita, Birnbaum presents an engrossing account of his life but is unable to shed much light on his reversals of allegiance. The result is an incomplete picture of this inscrutable artist. 24 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.)
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So distinctive was his appearance, so flamboyant his pranks, and so popular his paintings of women and cats, Foujita was a Jazz Age superstar. Born in Tokyo in 1886, Foujita arrived in Paris in 1913 and soon forged an alluring style that combined Western settings with Japanese traditions to create, as Birnbaum so vividly attests, works distinguished by extraordinarily nuanced whites and breathtakingly supple and precise lines. Yet for all his success, the fastidious, disciplined Foujita was destined to arouse controversy. Birnbaum, whose earlier works focus on Japanese women, judiciously teases apart the many contradictions and mysteries enfolded in Foujita's dramatic life, chronicling his rise to fame, five marriages, return to Japan in the 1930s, and surprising metamorphosis into his at-war homeland's foremost military artist. With access to newly available materials and expertise in all things Japanese, Birnbaum tracks Foujita's ups and downs with compassion, humor, and discernment, exhibiting particular sensitivity in her analysis of the strange exhilaration Foujita experienced while making official war paintings so overwhelming people prayed before them and his despair at being viewed as a war criminal. Birnbaum's compelling biography reveals the shadow side of artistic compulsion. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved