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Japanese Artist’s Home Opens

September 16, 2000

VILLIERS-LE-BACLE, France (AP) _ Leonard Foujita’s spartan home in this tiny village south of Paris is so well preserved, you’d think the Japanese artist had simply stepped away for a moment.

Cracked picture frames are stacked against the wall, an old fashioned Singer sewing machine stands ready, with wads of fabric and patterns nearby.

Paint brushes, boxes of chalk, glass jars labeled in Japanese, religious icons and unfinished frescoes adorn the bare walls of the studio overlooking the lush Chevreuse Valley that inspired so many 20th-century artists, Fernand Leger and Jean Cocteau among them.

But it has taken years of painstaking research to recreate Foujita’s ordered chaos, which opens to the public for the first time this weekend as part of France’s annual National Heritage celebration.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Japanese artists of the century, the bespectacled, mustachioed Foujita lived in this simple, stone farmhouse from 1960 to his death in 1968.

``The biggest challenge in reconstituting Foujita’s unique work environment was evoking the density, the apparent disorder that he thrived on, while making it look as though nothing was touched,″ said museum curator Frederic Beauclair, who worked from archives and photos.

Foujita’s 90-year-old widow, Kimiyo, who donated the home to regional officials in 1991, was on hand for Thursday’s unveiling in the presence of Japanese Ambassador Kazuo Ogoura.

Weeping and in a wheelchair, Kimiyo Foujita hid her face, and refused to look around. She had lived alone in the house until 1991.

She ran her hand over a Japanese screen separating the living room and bedroom, breaking into tears upon seeing her husband’s collection of antique china dolls on the bed.

She declined offers to be carried upstairs to the studio _ the artist’s sacred space that was off limits to her during her husband’s lifetime.

The farmhouse _ in ruins when Foujita bought it _ was where he designed one of his most famous works, the chapel at Notre Dame-de-la-Paix in Reims.

``He designed it for Villiers, but for some reason, the village priest didn’t want it,″ Beauclair said. Foujita was buried in Reims, but his remains later were transferred to Villiers’ village cemetery.

Foujita Leonard Tsuguharu _ his full name _ was born in Tokyo in 1886, the son of a Japanese general. He became obsessed with western art techniques at an early age, and arrived in France in 1913 where he lived a bohemian life in the bustling Montparnasse quarter, frequenting the likes of Picasso and Douanier Rousseau.

So enthralled was he with his new life that he wrote a letter to his father saying, ``Consider me dead until I become famous.″ He was 27.

Fueled by various 19th and 20th century schools, Foujita went on to develop a unique style blending East and West. Among his favorite subjects were cats, graceful women in repose and nudes.

On display in the studio is ``Trois Femmes,″ one of Foujita’s most famous paintings on silk, executed in 1930 and depicting three scantily clad prostitutes from the leading Parisian brothel of the day.

Foujita returned to Japan during World War II and was sent to Indochina as Japan’s cultural attache. He later was drafted into the army where he was ordered to portray the nation’s feats on paper and canvas.

After the war, his style changed, his palette of colors darkening as he began an intense spiritual quest. He converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1950s.

Foujita finally found peace in Villiers-le Bacle, about 20 miles south of Paris.

``He spoke some French and had a happy personality,″ said Pierre Druillennec, 79, who lived next door for many years. ``He was definitely a bon vivant.″

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