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Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita--the Artist Caught Between East and West Hardcover – November 14, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (November 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571211798
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571211791
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,624,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Maxim on January 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As I read Phyllis Birnbaum's GLORY IN A LINE, I fought a sense of disbelief. How was it during my 1960s training in art and art history I had never heard or read this artist's name? In fact, if it had not been for Birnbaum's book or my perusal of Christie's or Sotheby's auction catalogs of only recent years, I might not have heard the name Foujita, still. But then, there is a fairy-tale sense of fantasy to this artist's life that may account for my incredulity. Birnbaum reveals in a humorous, sometimes deadpan, gathering-of-facts style, the artist's amazing and vivid life. Leaving it to the reader to configure, Birnbaum reports that Foujita constructed a fabulously successful social life, rather like, this reader supposes, an early modernist Andy Warhol. Despite being newly arrived in Paris, and knowing little French, the Japanese Foujita took to the Bohemian life-style like a duck to water. He displayed far more joie de vivre than any Left Bank artist (among his friends were Modigliani, Soutine and others). Then, after years of celebrity in Paris and more years traveling, the mercurial Foujita returned to Japan and virtually led the Japanese propagandist art program for World War II. Birnbaum has a knack for seting up scenes with great economy: meeting a Frenchman from his former deveil-may-care life in Paris, Foujita entered the room in full military garb,and greeted the visitor with a smile-less, stiff, formal bow,instead of shaking hands. Foujita, the perfect super-chameleon, or better yet--Zelig. Then, this reader thought perhaps it was because of his Japanese war art that Foujita was omitted from earlier art history texts, to be discussed only now. Indeed as of this writing, an American war movie about Iwo Jima told from the Japanese point of view is of recent release.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jeffsdate on March 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
On the one hand, I am very grateful to Ms. Birnbaum for bringing to my attention this very interesting artist, whom I had NEVER heard of, despite majoring in art history! On the other hand, I have to echo what the other reviewers said: there is too little emphasis on his art, and too much bogging down in biographical minutiae (e.g., his associations with other Japanese artists whom I'd never heard of), and Japanese history. You get the impression that Ms. Birnbaum is a historian of Japan first and foremost, and not really that interested in art. Why on earth are there NO color repros of Foujita's paintings, other than the gorgeous one on the cover -- and only a few black-and-white repros besides? Can it be that there were problems with repro rights? I ordered Jean Selz's out-of-print monograph on Foujita and kept it by my side while reading Birnbaum's book, just so I could see the works she was talking about.

The earlier (Paris) portion of the book was far more interesting than the second (Japanese) half, which really was a chore to finish. Ms. Birnbaum certainly has done a ton of research, but I just wish the book's emphasis had been different. For my purposes, I think my little Selz monograph is going to be more interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James P. Anderson on January 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The artist known as Foujita was torn between two worlds: the western artistic community in pre-war Paris and the imperial Japan of World War 2. How he dealt with these conflicting universes is the theme of the book. Not entirely successfully, the author tells of his sometimes madcap life in France, mostly without linking that life to his work. The story becomes more vivid as it recounts his second career, as a combat artist of high military rank in Japan.

The book would have profited from more examples of his painting. There's only a few black-and-white illustrations which are insufficient to match the strenuous descriptions of his work, especially during the war.

The author is clearly knowledgable about the Japanese language and culture and she has done her homework about his stunning switch from bohemian artist to a soldier-painter with the rank equivalent to major general in the Japanese army.

It's well worth reading but it would be best done if the reader had a book of his paintings to relate it to his unusual life
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gerald E. Heineck on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I FIRST BECAME AWARE OF FOUJITA IN 'KI KI'S PARIS'. I LOVE THE BOHEMIAN PARIS OF THE 1920'S WITH ALL THOSE ARTISTS AND WRITERS CREATING AND PARTYING , THRIVING AND STARVING AND BASKING IN THE GLORY THAT WAS PARIS. PHYLLIS BIRNBAUM'S BOOK IS QUITE GOOD, BUT I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE DISCOVERED MORE ABOUT THE 'CREATIVE' MAN, THE GENIUS WITHIN. AND I WISH THERE HAD BEEN MORE PHOTOS OF HIS MANY ART WORKS. HE WAS QUITE A COMPLEX MAN AND THE BIO, WHILE INFORMATIVE, DOESN'T CAPTURE HIS CREATIVE PROCESS ENOUGH FOR ME. I DO RECOMMEND THE BOOK. I HOPE SOMEONE WILL WRITE ANOTHER BOOK OF JUST HIS PARIS YEARS.
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By Princess on October 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've always wondered about the single Japanese artist I've seen represented in European museum collections of early 20th century art. Who was this Foujita, what brought him to Europe, and what made him famous? Birnbaum's book tells all! The reader gets a sense of the splendid figure Foujita cut in Paris with his wild clothing and antics, but also the tight-rope he walked--trying to be Japanese enough to appeal to French buyers who loved Japonisme but also trying to find room for his original style. Birnbaum gives the sense of what her journey was like, taking the reader to Tokyo and Paris to talk with those who knew Foujita. A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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