Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968, Japanese-French) was a painter and print-maker and a well-known lover of cats. His works skillfully mix traditional Japanese styles with the trend of the time, European Modernism. Born in Tokyo, Foujita studied western art at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, graduating in 1910. Three years later he traveled to Paris where he met Picasso, Modigliani , Matisse, Fernand Léger and Jacques Cocteau, with whom he shared a love of cats.
He was able to make a great deal of money during his lifetime through his eclectic style of painting nudes and cats. In 1925, he was awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold. In 1931, he traveled to South America where he was a huge success. During WWII, Foujita lived in Japan where he helped produce war propaganda, and because of this, he was later labeled a fascist imperialist. He left Japan after the war and returned to France where he converted to Catholicism. At the age of 80 he designed and had built the Foujita Chapel in Reims, France, which was completed in 1966. Foujita died of cancer in Zurich, Switzerland, and was initially buried in the Cimetière de Villiers-le-Bâcle, France, but was later moved to the burial ground of the Foujita Chapel.
Foujita’s love of cats spanned his entire lifetime. The majority of his works either center on cats or include cats in the composition. He published a Book of Cats in 1930 which includes 20 etched plate drawings. This book is considered one of the top five hundred rare books ever sold.
When interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal in 1935, Foujita stated, “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 marvelous possibilities of beauty. But unfortunately most of them have not developed these possibilities because they have not learned the lessons cats can teach…” The good and bad qualities of cats closely resemble the attributes of women. “Cats never give anything away. They are out for what they can get. They have tigerish passions when aroused. They have grace, beauty of movement, intriguing languor. Cats are never in a hurry, never angular. They move softly, gently, insinuatingly. Clever women live with cats…They study the animal’s movements, habits and emotional reactions…”