As part of the BNP Paribas pour l’Art programme, the BNP Paribas Foundation and BNP Paribas Japan have helped fund the restoration of an oil-on-canvas painting by Léonard Foujita (1886 – 1968), an artist who exemplifies ties between France and Japan.
Thanks to restoration work by the Tokyo University of the Arts overseen by eminent scientific specialists, “Avant le Bal” (Before the Ball) has regained its original brilliance and will soon be prominently displayed in the Ohara Museum in Kurashiki, Japan.
Before rejoining the museum’s permanent collection, the painting will be featured at the National Art Center in Tokyo as part of an exhibition of masterpieces from the Ohara Museum of Art.
“Avant le Bal” will also be one of the key works displayed in the Léonard Foujita exhibition scheduled for Kyoto and Tokyo in 2018, marking the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. This corporate philanthropy initiative underlines the commitment of the BNP Paribas Foundation and of BNP Paribas Japan to helping preserve Japan’s rich heritage.
A well-known figure in the artistic community in the Montparnasse district of Paris in the 1920s, Léonard Foujita was the scion of a highly cultured Japanese family open to new Western ideas. He learned French at primary school and then studied Western painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. After arriving in Paris in 1913, he discovered the work of Picasso and Henri Rousseau, and kept company with Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Kees Van Dongen and other artists. Foujita was rapidly drawn to the Ecole de Paris school, of which he became a member. He forged his own distinctive style, melding Western avant-garde techniques with his Asian roots. Foujita became famous for his highly personal subjects, including women and young girls, cats, self-portraits and religious scenes.
When it was first shown, Foujita’s painting “Avant le Bal” was hailed for both its harmony and the painter’s ‘Nyuhakushoku’ (chalk white) technique, the details of which he kept a closely-guarded secret. This technique entailed first painting a background with white mother-of-pearl powder, then applying other materials, including a Japanese ink called ‘Sumi’. Foujita was very fond of the painting and kept it for several years. At the centre is Foujita’s wife Lucie Badoud, whom he nicknamed Youki – ‘snow’ in Japanese – because of her very white skin tone. The shorter woman to her left is Marie Vassiliev, a noted Russian painter who also lived in Montparnasse.