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The Magical Realism of Cats

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was a Japanese–French painter and printmaker born in Tokyo,. He applied Japanese ink techniques to Western-style paintings in the Magical Realism style.

Self Portrait with a Cat, 1927

In 1913 Foujita was twenty-seven years old and traveled to the place of his dreams – Montparnasse in Paris. Despite knowing no one, he soon met Amedeo Modigliani, Pascin, Chaim Soutine, and Fernand Léger and became friends with Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He even took dance lessons from Isadora Duncan.

Couturier Cat, 1927

Unlike a few of his fellow artists, Foujita quickly started to rake in the bucks. By 1925 he had received the Belgian Order of Leopold and the French Legion of Honor. Foujita’s first studio became the envy of everyone when he installed a bathtub with hot running water. As a result, many models came over to his place to enjoy this luxury.

Youki and a Cat, 1923

Within a few years, he achieved fame as a painter of two subjects in particular: beautiful women and cats. His flat, decorative style married Western influences with the traditional art of his native Japan. This commercially successful style enlivened the formal draftsmanship drawn from Japanese and Indo-Persian aesthetics with a spirit of decorative Art Deco glamour.

As Paris’ shining art star, he was more successful than Picasso and more acclaimed than Matisse.

My Dream, 1947

“I’m not like an old lady who can’t live without a cat. And I don’t need a pedigree cat. I take in strays. There aren’t many of them in France, though I do come across one or 2 each year. And I look after them.”

But let's get to the cats.

Foujita was, if nothing else, a besotted Cat Guy. He painted and drew many dozens of them. He also painted his self-portraits with cats.

Striped Cat, 1924

"Ladies who would be alluring to men should surround themselves with cats… I never look at men only at women–they have, each one such marvellous possibilities of beauty. But unfortunately most of them have not developed these possibilities because they have not learned the lessons cats can teach…"

White Cat, Showa Period

(Selfie) 1950s

In 1930 Foujita's Book of Cats (with 20 etched plate drawings) was published. It's now one of the top 500 (in price) among rare books ever sold. Consequently, rare book dealers ranked it as "the most popular and desireable bookon cats ever published.

Maybe Foujita should be known as the one responsible for igniting the embers of the Crazy Cat Lady lifestyle.

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