Culture: 284 posts

Art, travel, books, history

Leonard Foujita : The Japanese Star of 1920s Paris

In the summer of 1913, an artist arrived in Paris. He was 27 and discovering the city of lights had been his obsession since he was a child in Meiji-era Japan. Foujita Tsuguharu was from a well-off family, the son of a general in Japan’s imperial army and a graduate of the prestigious School of Fine Arts in Tokyo, but he arrived in the French capital as a complete unknown. His goal was to learn, paint and be inspired by the city.

He moved into a studio in Montparnasse and soon met artists like Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. He worked as a copyist at the Louvre, took dance lessons from Isadora Duncan and staged exhibitions with other painters. In Japanese, Foujita meant “a wisteria field,” but in the Montparnasse circle he soon became known as Fou-Fou, Mad to the power of two. Foujita didn’t mind. He welcomed the notoriety by cultivating a flamboyant image complete with a bowl cut, earrings and a lampshade as a headdress. He added Léonard to his name for a French inflection and as a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci. In the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, he was a star and a natural, more successful than either Picasso or Matisse.

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In the Realm of Senses & Art Event : June 16

I’m collaborating with the multi-sensory art project called In the Realm of Senses. The idea behind it is to explore the sensory dimensions of various art forms, discover how stimulating one sense enhances the experience of our other senses, and to create a platform where artists and participants can meet and experiment together. As you can see, it’s an extended version of what I do with Bois de Jasmin, so I’m happy to support this initiative. It has long been my belief that olfaction, the overlooked sense, can make our sensory experiences richer and that paying more attention to it gives more facets and colors to our surroundings.


In The Realm of Senses was conceived by Jeff Yang, a Chicago-based violinist, with a fascinating background in classical music and engineering. We’re in the early stages of taking the project off the ground, but among the perfumers involved are Ralf Schwieger and Christophe Laudamiel. If you’re in Chicago on June 16, 2018, please don’t miss our fundraising event.

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Spring Folding Into Summer : Haiku of the Day

Changing the dresses
Spring has vanished
Into a long coffer

—Ihara Saikaku

The image that this poem plays on is a wooden chest for storing clothes. The change of seasons in traditional Japan used to be associated with the heavier spring kimono being exchanged for the light summer one. As the cherry petals fall and vanish into the earth, so does spring itself. Summer is waiting in the wings.

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Days of Reading

Two weeks ago, talking about an essay by Marcel Proust, I wrote about the place that the word “reading” evokes for me. Finding myself in this very spot, I wanted to share it with you. It’s located near Poltava, one of the oldest towns in Ukraine, although our garden is far enough from the bustle of the town. The apricot tree I mentioned has long been gone, as have the people who planted the garden, my great-grandparents, but the cherry orchard, the hammock, the thicket of jasmine are still there. And so I am with my book.

I spread the blanket under the bush we call “the nightingale’s tree.” It grows tall fronds covered with fuzzy, honey-smelling white blossoms. The cherries are still green, but it’s still early, it’s still spring, and I don’t rush headlong into summer.

My book today is Vivre Dans Le Feu: Confessions (Living in the Fire: Confessions) by Marina Tsvetaeva. It’s a compilation of the poet’s letters and diaries made and commented by the late Tsvetan Todorov. In English, I recommend a similar compilation, but spanning only the years between 1917 and 1922, Earthly Signs, recently translated and edited by the New York Review of Books. On the other hand, if you’re new to Tsvetaeva’s poetry, I would suggest starting with her magnificent The Poem of the EndThe Poem of the Mountain, and The Ratcatcher.

Perhaps, I’ve asked you this already, but if not, where do you like reading?

Haiku of the Day : Freesia Fever

I doze off
In the scent of freesias
High fever.

Je somnole encore
Dans l’arôme des freesias…
Forte fièvre.

This haiku written by Mariko Koga (b. 1924) is from an excellent collection of haiku written by women poets, Anthologie Du rouge aux lèvres. Translated by Dominique Chipot and Makoto Kemmoku (public library). The English translation is mine.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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